Nobody would deny that Josh Pastner walked into a tough situation yesterday when he was tabbed to follow John Calipari as basketball coach at Memphis. The fact that Coach Pastner GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL the year Coach Cal took UMass to the Final Four (1996) makes the task even more daunting.
As such I feel it's my duty as a Memphis Alum (and an UBER-knowledgeable amateur college basketball analyst) to offer my help SO I give you ("you" specifically referring to Coach Pastner but feel free to read along even if that's NOT your name) the five keys to success for Coach Pastner and Memphis Basketball
1. Recruiting- The most overused cutsy phrase in coaching today (matter of fact both Coach Cal and Coach Pastner used it at their introductory press conferences) is that the three keys to coaching are players, players, and players.
With very few exceptions (Tommy Amaker's tenure at Michigan comes to mind) the best way to put yourself in position to win basketball games is to have better players than the other guy.
Calipari built the Memphis program on his ability to recruit. He was able to get players from everywhere (Chicago's Derrick Rose, Philadelphia's Tyreke Evans, Camden, NJ's DaJaun Wagner, Orlando's Darius Washington, Jr, etc.).
Pastner comes with a rep as a top notch recruiter and he will need every bit of that to attract top players to a non-BCS school in a horrible conference.
The early returns are not looking great on this as Carl Henry came out yesterday and said he was not coming to Memphis as Director of Basketball Operations (which most probably means Memphis can kiss OKC phenom and Carl's son Xavier goodbye).
2. Coaching Staff Part One (This one's two-pronged)- First, Pastner is a 31-year-old first time head coach which makes it VITAL that he hire a older, seasoned former head coach as his assistant (think Larry Shyatt at Florida).
Fortunately he's got one right down the hall in Memphis assistant and former Youngstown State headman John Robic. Robic has been through the wars and is a top notch X's and O's guy.
Thus Pastner has to do whatever he can to keep Robic from following Cal to Kentucky (or, failing that, lure a similar candidate such as Seton Hall assistant Scott Adubato).
3. Coaching Staff Part Two- Pastner's never been a head coach before thus he has no staff in place to bring to Memphis with him. Thus he is free to hire anybody he likes as his assistant coaches. Anybody at all. Such as AAU coaches...with ties to recruits (see key No. 1 above). I'm just sayin'.
4. Ambassador for the City- Memphis is a deeply divided, broken city with deep racial issues. I've personally never seen a place with as big a civic inferiority complex. That said, the city loves their Basketball Tigers.
As such the head coach at the University of Memphis has a unique ability (I may even go so far as to say a civic duty) to bring the town together. Calipari embodied this like no one before him for nine years.
He was an apostle for every downtrodden Memphian, making us believe that if his team could beat Mighty Michigan State by roughly a zillion in the NCAA tournament maybe we could be successful, too.
(This also explains the civic outrage over Cal's departure; it's not easy when your Messiah sells you out for the pretty rich girl down the street.)
The job Pastner steps into is a LOT bigger than coaching basketball; he's got the morale of a city to restore. That said, if the opening press conference was any indicator, he will do just fine.
5. Athletic Department Support- In recent days it has become clear that Calipari was the Memphis Athletic Department over the last nine years. Athletic Director R. C. Johnson and School President Dr. Shirley Raines got out of Cal's way and let him be absolute Svengali.
Let me be very clear when I say this absolutely will not work with Pastner. Pastner is too young and inexperienced to be a de facto-athletic director (though he may well be able to fill that role admirably one day).
He MUST be fully backed by an athletic director with vision and intelligence (which quite honestly is NOT R C Johnson). Now that the coaching search is over Memphis needs to turn it's attention to fixing its' (by all accounts) miserably dysfunctional athletic department.
The school would be wise to turn to an up-and-coming Assistant AD somewhere that wants to move up (as Mississippi State has done just two-and-a-half hours down the road). Without a solid AD, the best Pastner can hope for is that a better job opens sooner rather than later.