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VOL. 129 | NO. 56 | Friday, March 21, 2014
Don Wade

Don Wade

Positive Pastner Makes More Sense After Wins

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Take a hike.

Yes, you, Negative Nelly Tigers fan. You have unrealistic expectations for the University of Memphis basketball team and its coach, Josh Pastner, who suggested – amid criticism – that this small minority of overly critical Tiger fans no longer was needed inside the tent.

Pastner’s comments came a few days after that 19-point loss – a full-on debacle – to UConn in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

The practical ramification for this was an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But it also re-stirred an ever-simmering pot.

Pastner’s most passionate critics, the ones who, in no particular order, believe he can’t coach, can’t motivate, should cuss, and shouldn’t be so nice, had new evidence.

And Pastner, as he is prone to do, immediately helped their case when moments after the UConn loss he said the Tigers needed to win to two NCAA games to “balance” things.

Then Pastner spoke to the media again after the pairings came out; the Tigers were to play 9 seed George Washington University Friday night, March 21.

“Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets heard,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the majority of fans. I think there’s a minority of fans, if we go 40-0, would find fault with us and myself. Those people can take a hike as far as I’m concerned.”

Calling those fans “Negative Nellies” was his spin on John Calipari’s description for the chronically disgruntled: “The Miserables.”

This didn’t go over well, of course, which is why Pastner came back two days later and said: “No more Negative Nelly. That’s my lead. Positive Paul.”

Annoying alliteration aside (see what I did there?), I again found myself feeling the coach’s pain. Not because I have a soft spot for a guy making $2.6 million, but because he wears his tortured soul on his sleeve.

He really does want to win every game. He really does want to make Tiger Nation proud. But he’s a young coach, mature beyond his years in many ways, yet still trying to catch up to the big-boy nature of the business in others.

I asked him at one point what would be a reasonable expectation for a Memphis fan to have for what the Tigers would do on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. He answered by explaining the value he puts on the regular season and recited, more than once, all the team’s accomplishments. You’ve heard this spiel, no doubt, so I won’t repeat it here.

Then he said: “I also understand that it’s the Road to the Final Four. It does not say the Road to the Regular Season.”

That, for Pastner, was a moment of enlightenment.

So was this: “I need to do a better job of personally getting out of the expectation business. I think it’s dangerous. So what I need to do as a coach to grow, even in the early season, is get out of the expectation business.”

This is absolutely right. He has been guilty of over-hyping his team early, middle and late. He has been guilty of then trying to cover his messy tracks when the team doesn’t meet those expectations. It was crazy to talk about winning two NCAA Tournament games 20 minutes after losing in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

I think even he realizes that now.

But to be fair, he can’t change the core of who he is and we shouldn’t expect that he can.

So it was that when he was talking about how much he hates negativity he brought up the old Robin Williams film, “Patch Adams,” about a doctor who lives out the idea that laughter is the best medicine. Pastner loves that movie, of course he does.

“He healed kids just by a positive atmosphere,” the coach said.

At rottentomatoes.com, the summation of critics was this: “Syrupy performances and directing make this dramedy all too obvious.”

That’s the world the rest of us lives in.

Josh Pastner? He can’t quite comprehend such cynicism.

Which is why it’s easier for us to understand him after Memphis wins.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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