VOL. 131 | NO. 60 | Thursday, March 24, 2016
The Press Box
Rudd + Bowen + Pastner = PR Nightmare at Memphis
By Don Wade
You keep thinking the story can’t get worse, and then it does. What we have here is an ongoing public relations disaster that is the University of Memphis athletic department as it pertains to all matters regarding the men’s basketball program.
The $10.6 million buyout the university (and big boosters such as Bill Laurie and Fred Smith) would not fund has officially turned into a B-grade horror film: “The Contract That Ate the Bluff City.”
So if you’re in the mood to get really, really depressed, I direct you to a competitor’s website: www.commercialappeal.com. For there an investigative reporter for the newspaper has yet another story tied to maybe the most ridiculous contract given a college basketball coach in this century.
Within the story are some truly amazing quotes and, of course, yet another official statement released by university president M. David Rudd. The latest one is about athletic director Tom Bowen sharing the same agent as Pastner at the time in 2013 that Pastner’s now-infamous contract was negotiated. We’ll get to the meat of that in a moment, but there is an investigation into whether Bowen had a conflict of interest.
First, some background for those not up to speed. The most egregious part of Pastner’s contract was never the annual salary (though $2.65 million was crazy) nor that the five-year deal was set up to have two rollovers, effectively making it a seven-year deal (although that was fairly nuts as well).
No, the unforgivable sin was signing off on a contract that would allow Pastner to collect his $2.65 million every year if, after being fired at Memphis, he accepted another job. That kind of clause just isn’t part of a normal contract.
Yes, Pastner was coming off a huge 2012-2013 season: 31-5, including one win in the NCAA Tournament. He was a hot young coaching commodity and as the narrative goes, USC was offering more than $3 million per year.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I know I never believed he would, at that time, leave the Memphis job for one where his basketball program would be a mere afterthought. The Lakers, UCLA and the Clippers would have soaked up almost all of the spotlight. And in those days, Pastner loved the media spotlight.
That aside, the deal got done. And today, we have former university president Shirley Raines clearly content to let the blame fall on Bowen and Bowen saying that he is the fall guy. In fact, in The Commercial Appeal story he says he is getting “crucified” over the Pastner contract.
However this went down, law schools will be holding up this contract as a teaching tool for decades.
As for Rudd’s statement, he says they are launching a “comprehensive investigation” and will be using an outside source to review the accusations. Once the review is done, Rudd said another statement will be released to share the findings.
Of course. The mark of a great basketball program is the number of official statements from the school president. Maybe Rudd believes this somehow figures into next year’s RPI.
Truthfully, it’s hard to imagine this “review” goes anywhere. Rudd had a committee to evaluate Pastner and the program for about 10 minutes and then we learned Pastner and his gross-national-product-of-a-small-nation contract were returning.
Just as Rudd and Bowen and Pastner mangled the Austin Nichols transfer and Rudd and Bowen naively believed Memphis fans would get behind a celebration of John Calipari, they botched the whole keep-Josh, fire-Josh drama. And now the involved parties appear not only incompetent, but petty and defensive, even if not guilty of any actual impropriety during the contract negotiation.
Not a good look for a program working on two straight years outside the NCAAs and that has a disappearing fan base and a roster for next season that in all probability will be inferior to the one that just went 19-15 and lost to East Carolina at home.
If I’m young Dedric Lawson and contemplating my future, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are looking pretty good.
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.