VOL. 9 | NO. 15 | Saturday, April 9, 2016
The Press Box
Shoot for a Basketball Coaching Star? Memphis Would Have to Pay Big
By Don Wade
Josh Pastner is officially the new head coach at Georgia Tech and the University of Memphis is officially in the coach search business.
That process worked out very well in football with the hire of Justin Fuente and everyone is hopeful about young Mike Norvell.
But as the Tigers seek to restore the basketball program to what it once was – and that means the Sweet 16 or better every few years – they better be preparing to spend a lot. More than what they saved by not having to pay Pastner the full $10.6 million buyout.
Published reports indicate that Pastner and U of M agreed on a little more $1.2 million over two years. Chump change, really, when you consider the alternative.
Top of the Tigers’ wish list – at least judging by fans and most media that have weighed in – is accomplished Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. No doubt, he would be a “wow” hire. But is it possible?
In a statement, Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen called Memphis a “historically renowned program” and said “we expect to attract a national candidate pool.”
That is sufficiently vague to leave open, well, just about any possibility.
Marshall, who took Wichita State to the Final Four in 2013, is making a cool $3 million now. His pay is scheduled to jump $3.5 million in two years. He is the King of Wichita – don’t laugh – and the basketball program does things in a first-class way.
Yes, that means charters and not commercial flights. Charters for recruiting. Charters whenever Marshall says he needs a charter.
In fact, Marshall would wield John Calipari-like power if he were to come here. Bowen would have to accept that when his new basketball coach says “jump,” the only appropriate response is “how high, Gregg?”
Memphis will need a lot of help from boosters to do the heavy lifting required to even get Marshall’s attention, much less to get him to say yes. Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams would be an easier get, but also would require much booster investment. I also had one source close to the Memphis program say that Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith may be in play.
If none of those scenarios work, you drop down to the list of candidates already widely circulated – from East Tennessee State’s Steve Forbes to Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss, among others. I suppose if you talk to enough people from enough places around the country, you could define that as a “national candidate pool.”
Josh Pastner is leaving Memphis to become the head basketball coach at Georgia Tech, where he was introduced by athletic director Mike Bobinski on Friday afternoon.
And that might be how this goes. The Memphis administration may let the process simmer enough to have the appearance of a national search, even if the big-time candidates are beyond reach.
So comes the question: How committed are Bowen and Memphis president David Rudd to putting the shine back on Memphis hoops?
Do they understand that means being a real Top 30 team almost every year?
Do they realize the fan base, even now, has a different set of parameters by which it judges basketball success than football success?
Just a few months ago Rudd and Bowen didn’t realize throwing a celebratory banquet in honor of Calipari’s Hall-of-Fame induction was a horrendous idea until the fans revolted through social media and sports talk radio.
The public relations around Austin Nichols’ transfer was a fiasco.
And killing Memphis Madness was another messy symptom of the program’s growing apathy.
Have they wised up since all that? One indication they are on the right path is not firing Pastner. That has saved millions. So bravo for that one.
Can they and the members of the university search committee figure out how to do for basketball what was done for football and restore hope and enthusiasm?
They get one shot. And if we learned anything from the Pastner years, it was that in order to win you have to make shots.
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.