Let us face it Tiger fans. We are not a top ten coaching job in the country, plain and simple. We do not play in a powerhouse conference and we do not have a bunch of National Championship banners hanging on the rafters. Top coaches want that when they go to a new job and Memphis does not have that tradition or competition right now.
This may not be a completely fair assumption, but this program’s fame and rise as a national power in the last five or so years is because of the ex-head coach, John Calipari. His ability to bring in top recruits from across the country is simply unmatched by most Division 1 coaches.
Do not get me wrong, I bashed Calipari as much as any other Memphis fan out there, but I will be the first to admit that our rise to a championship contender in the past five years was due mostly to him.
The days prior to Josh Pastner being hired as the new Tigers’ head coach was a huge head ache for most fans. Athletic Director R.C. Johnson went after a number of head coaches including Bruce Pearl from Tennessee, Scott Drew from Baylor, Mike Anderson from Missouri, and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton.
Other than Scott Drew, Memphis was not very close to contracting any of them, in fact, people joked that R.C. Johnson should be awarded the Athletic Director of the Year for getting all those coaches an extension in their respective teams.
Memphis had almost given up all hope in hiring the “wow” coach that R.C. Johnson promised. Thirty-one year old Memphisassistant, Josh Pastner, was packing his bags into his Toyota Corolla to join Calipari and the rest of the ex-Memphis staff in Lexington.
While he was packing, he received a phone call from R.C. Johnson asking him if he was interested in becoming the new University of Memphisbasketball coach. Pastner immediately said yes without any hesitation.
Collage basketball fans around the country were already starting to criticize the University of Memphis Athletic Department for hiring a 31-year-old assistant coach. At the time, Josh Pastner was the highest paid assistant coach in the country at a little over 200,000 dollars a year. To many, Pastner was considered the best assistant coach in the market.
This certainly was not the “wow” hire that Tiger fans were promised, but it was a better hire than the other coaches on the Memphis agenda.
Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton was heavily gone after when Memphis failed to reach an agreement with Baylor’s Scott Drew. When I saw the news that Memphis was going after Hamilton I was stunned.
I asked myself why would Memphis try to hire a 61 year old coach who has only made the NCAA Tournament four times in his 20-year head-coaching career. Bringing in Hamilton would just be a glorified retirement for him.
Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl was also offered a contract to be the new head coach. Pearl has only made it to the Sweet 16 once and has only brought in one McDonald’s All-American to Tennessee. Like Hamilton, Pearl was not a great coach when the tournament came and he does not land the top name recruits.
After reading this, you are probably asking yourself how is it better to hire a young assistant coach who has never coached in the collage level as the head of a team and two proved collage coaches that just do not get it done in the NCAA Tournament. Simple answer, Pastner has been with winners.
He was the primary assistant coach and recruiter behind Arizona's run to a National Championship and Memphis loss to Kansas just two years ago in the National Championship.
Pastner is said to be one of the hardest working recruiters out there. In fact, the number one overall point guard, John Wall, still has Memphis in his top list of schools even after Calipari’s departure. This might not mean much right now, but it could be a small sign of things to come for the Memphis basketball program in terms of recruiting.
To many, the key to Calipari’s success at Memphis was his ability to bring in top players, including All-Americans. Now a days, if you are a great recruiter, but only a sub-par bench coach, you will probably win games. Calipari himself is a primary example of that concept.
Pastner brings energy and excitement to a down Memphis fan base. Memphisfans saw all the work of the past nine years gone in the blink of an eye.
Suddenly, many see Pastner as that little ray of hope that will bring Memphisback on top of the collage basketball world. The first thing a coach new to a team, especially new to the head coach position, is fan support and Tiger fans have been more than supportive of Pastner already.
Pastner brings a familiar face to players on the current roster. Although Memphishas lost two starters to graduation, possibly a third if Evans decides to go to the NBA Draft, there are still plenty of players returning next season.
A very talented bench from last season lead by Robert Sallie and Wesley Witherspoon along with the returning starters, Memphis still could be the favorite to win its fifth consecutive Conference USA title.
If Memphiswould have hired a head coach from another program that would mean the current players would have to adjust to a new system and a new set of team rules. Pastner has even said he plans to continue to use the Dribble-Drive system.
Pastner has the pressure of the entire city, but he certainly has their support. Only time will tell if Memphis ever comes back to be the National powerhouse it once was built by John Calipari. There is no doubt he has some huge shoes to fill.