But why did it take RC and the Gang over a week to discover the new Memphis Jewel?
Cal and the team landed in Memphis on the morning of Friday, March 27. Roughly 2.7 seconds later, Cal was in serious negotiations with the University of Kentucky.
RC should have begun contacting other coaching prospects immediately upon granting Kentucky permission to speak with Cal. Reasonably speaking, he should have put the feelers out a few hours after the team landed.
Instead, the people of Memphis were left with excruciating uncertainty until the next Tuesday... 5 whole days! The next day, Memphis fans were led to believe that the Tigers would be making a "WOW! hire" very soon to replace Calipari.
As a sidenote, I hate the term "WOW hire". It gives Memphis fans a doe-eyed, backwoods look. I fully expected the school to release their next statement rife with lines such as, "Well, gaaaaahw-lee! This coach-huntin' is mighty tough!" and "Aw, shucks! The NIT ain't so bad!" For future reference, if I write about anything that is ridiculous or stupid, it will be deemed a WOW! "X".
On the heels of the promise to bring in basketball royalty to replace Cal, names such as Rick Pitino, Bruce Pearl, even Bob Knight surfaced.
Really?! Pitino will leave his thoroughbred team, in a thoroughbred conference, in Louisville where he raises thoroughbreds to come back to the conference from which he bolted four years ago?
Really?! Bruce Pearl will leave a school that's embraced him, the city in which his kids live, the hotbed (you know it) of coeds, and free cut and color whenever he needs one?
Really?! Bob Knight? Really.
So the days dragged along. After the first line of defense has fallen, Memphis fans begin to recapture a sense of reason and begin discussing the possibilities of Scott Drew, Reggie Theus and Andy Kennedy.
While the Scott Drew experiment (thankfully) blew over and Kennedy was left in Oxford without a cabbie, the university was silent. Even my contacts in the athletic department were clamming up... Considering the chaos and possibly failures of the past few days, the silence was deafening.
None of the big names were coming. No under-the-radar, mid-major guru was sneaking in. No NBA coach was going to settle into the Tiger post.
Being the head coach of the Memphis Tigers is a hard job. Apart from selling the city and school, you have to sell the conference, which means you have to sell the lack of airtime, highlights and all-around media acknowledgement, much less attention.
When all seemed to be lost and Memphis seemed to be destined to dwell in the bottom of the CUSA barrel, lightning struck on Monday, April 6. Memphis has a coach. It's Josh "Pert Plus" Pastner, the 31 year old assistant of Cal for the previous year and Lute Olsen for six years before that.
This was definitely a WOW! hire and, initially, it seemed to fit my definition of a WOW! hire.
Pastner is a Cal guy. He's 31. He's only been an assistant, whose main jobs have been recruiting and making donut runs.
However, it didn't take long before the college basketball talking heads warmed to this hire.
Pastner is an excellent recruiter. He's assisted under two of the biggest names in the game over the past decade. He's an excellent PR guy. Chicks dig him. The current players like him. He pushes the up-tempo style that Memphis fans have grown to love. He is definitely an up-and-comer in the college game.
It didn't take long for the good to outweigh the bad in the minds of Tiger fans. On that fact alone, the hire has to be considered an initial success. Bringing any positive energy at all to the situation warrants a cautious pat on the back for RC and the Gang.
Nevertheless, my question remains... Why on God's green earth did it take 10 days to make this happen? Pastner was literally packing up his office to follow Cal to Kentucky when RC called him in and offered him the Tiger's head coaching job.
Was it Pastner's age? Was it his lack of head coaching experience? Could it have been that every other direction Memphis began to travel was closed off and they finally dropped to square one and took a leap of faith?
Who knows? The chance of RC and the Gang being transparent about the process is slim. RC may have simply consulted his trusty Magic 8-Ball for the final answer.
Regardless of the fact that the search was sloppy and hurried, the hire took gusto. As I've said before, Cal did so much, not only the Memphis Tigers basketball team, but for the school and the city of Memphis. Placing those reins in an unproven, 31-year old, former assistant coach's hands is either a recipe for disaster or sowing the seeds of an incredible story.
Either way, Memphis has its head coach... and not a moment to soon.
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