The Memphis Tigers announced on Thursday that they hired Tubby Smith as their head coach for men's basketball. "Smith's contract with the Tigers is worth $15.45 million over five years, including $2.8 million in 2016-17, $2.9 million in 2017-18 and $3.25 million in the final three years," Memphis revealed.
President M. David Rudd released a statement on the hiring: ""A historic hire for the University of Memphis. He is the most accomplished coach the UofM has ever hired. For the University of Memphis and our basketball program, Tubby Smith is simply the right guy at the right time."
Smith replaces Josh Pastner, who left to take over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Pastner's departure was met with enthusiasm from a number of Tigers fans. The school has failed to reach the heights it did under John Calipari, with Memphis exiting the NCAA tournament in the round of 32 four years in a row between 2011 and 2014.
The Tigers missed out on the Big Dance altogether the last two seasons, and their on-court struggles were creating bigger issues. The average attendance during the 2014-15 season (13,915) fell 13.7 percent from the year before, and the Commercial Appeal's Phil Stukenborg reported in February that the team was on pace to average even fewer fans (11,721) in 2015-16.
In order to halt the program's stagnation, Memphis couldn't afford to take a similar gamble to the one when it hired Pastner, who had only served as an assistant at the college level. In that respect, USA Today's Dan Wolken believes Smith is the perfect man for the job:
According to Bleacher Report's Jason King, the Tigers also had a ceiling regarding realistic candidates, with Smith among the available options. King also reported on who could replace Smith at Texas Tech:
After leaving Kentucky in 2007, Smith enjoyed successful spells at Minnesota and Texas Tech.
He took the Golden Gophers to the NCAA tournament on three occasions in six years—after they had made three trips the previous 11 seasons. Before his arrival in Lubbock, Texas, the Red Raiders were still reeling from the Pat Knight era, with the Billy Gillispie experiment a complete failure as well. In three years, Smith had Tech back in the NCAA tournament.
On one hand, hiring the 64-year-old is somewhat underwhelming in that he isn't one of the most in-demand head coaches in the country. However, Smith is a proven winner, and that kind of track record is exactly what Memphis needs to counteract Pastner's last two years in charge.
The Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins also argued that one of Smith's potential failings—recruiting—may not be much of an issue:
The question with Smith will be recruiting. He will need to have some hardcore recruiters on his staff. But there will be some loaded classes of recruits coming out of Memphis high schools the next few years. All he has to do is hold onto them. Unless Smith totally screws this up, he is about to coach the best players he has had since he was the Kentucky coach. Oh, and if Smith can persuade Penny Hardaway to join his staff -- no clear word on that yet -- the recruiting should take care of itself.
Memphis doesn't have a wealth of talent coming in for next year, with 3-star small forward Jimario Rivers as the Tigers' only 2016 commitment so far. 247Sports ranks him as the No. 17 junior college transfer in the country.
The team received a big boost, though, when freshman forward and leading scorer Dedric Lawson put off the NBA for at least another year. Memphis had seven freshmen on the roster last year, all of whom should be better with a year of experience under their belts.
With Smith on the sideline, a return to the NCAA tourney isn't out of the question.
For Texas Tech, life after Smith could prove difficult. The Red Raiders don't carry a ton of prestige on the hardwood. According to Sports-Reference.com, four of the nine seasons in which they climbed into the Associated Press' Top 25 came under Bob Knight's watch. In the five seasons after Knight left, the school posted a .401 winning percentage.
Smith and Knight showed that Texas Tech can be a successful program, but athletic director Kirby Hocutt might have trouble convincing a young, up-and-coming coach to take on the challenge.