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Monday, April 06, 2009

Dan Wolken - Memphis Tigers hire Josh Pastner as coach; was Calipari's assistant

Memphis Tigers hire Josh Pastner as coach; was Calipari's assistant
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Originally published 04:30 p.m., April 6, 2009
Updated 10:12 p.m., April 6, 2009

When Josh Pastner moved to Memphis last summer for a chance to work under John Calipari, he decided to rent, not buy.

At the time, planning on a short stay was the only sensible move. When you're a 31-year-old rising star in your profession, that first head coaching job always seems like it's just around the corner.

In a stunning turn of events Monday, what Pastner came here to chase suddenly became his destiny when he was named the 17th head basketball coach in University of Memphis history. An official announcement was made at 5:32 p.m., and the school will hold a news conference introducing Pastner at noon today. No contract details were available as of Monday night.

Pastner's hiring ends a whirlwind search that began when Calipari resigned last Tuesday to become the coach at Kentucky. Over the next five days, Memphis officials inquired about a number of high-profile, experienced head coaches including Missouri's Mike Anderson, Southern Cal's Tim Floyd and Baylor's Scott Drew.

As those names fell by the wayside, however, Memphis began to look inward. The result was a daring hire, as Pastner comes with no head coaching experience but a reputation as a relentless recruiter with a deep network of connections on the grassroots basketball scene.

His father, Hal Pastner, was the kingpin of youth basketball in the Houston area and founded Vision Sports, which runs AAU events across the country.

"He's a high-energy, thorough and seasoned coach for someone his age," ESPN analyst and former Div. 1 coach Fran Fraschilla said. "This selection reminds me of Oklahoma hiring Jeff Capel a couple of years ago."

Josh Pastner began preparing for his career early on, producing scouting reports as a teenager and then coaching an AAU team at age 16. He walked on at Arizona and finished his undergraduate degree in less than three years, earning his masters in four. Pastner was immediately hired onto Lute Olson's staff as a video coordinator after graduation and became a full-time assistant in 2002.

"He was more of a coach than a player at Arizona," ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said. "He really studied the game. I know the coaching staff leaned on him. They trusted his basketball knowledge and common sense right off the bat."

Pastner recruited a number of McDonald's All-Americans to Arizona including Chase Budinger and Brandon Jennings. In his only year at Memphis, Pastner was instrumental in the recruitment of Xavier Henry, Nolan Dennis and DeMarcus Cousins.

As recently as Sunday, Pastner was set to follow Calipari as the lead recruiter on the new Kentucky staff and had not had a conversation with Memphis about the head coaching job.

At that point, in fact, it seemed that Pastner might have a better shot at the open Arizona job, which was offered to Xavier's Sean Miller on Sunday. On Sunday night, it appeared Miller was set to turn down Arizona, opening up the possibility of Pastner being considered.

By Monday morning, however, lots of things had changed both in Tucson and Memphis.

With the Memphis coaching search seemingly off the rails following a series of public rejections, the plan, according to a source, was to reach out to UMass coach and former Memphis assistant Derek Kellogg. For Kellogg, however, it was a sensitive situation since Calipari had initially backed the candidacy of another former assistant, Tony Barbee.

Because of the bitterness over Calipari's departure, the Memphis decision-makers never considered Barbee. And with Kellogg inclined not to take the job out of loyalty to both Barbee and Calipari, the next obvious choice was Pastner.

After Miller changed his mind and took the Arizona job, Pastner then went into a series of meetings with athletic director R.C. Johnson on Monday afternoon, according to a source, and agreed to a deal several hours later.

Pastner will be one of the nation's youngest head coaches when the 2009-10 season begins. He is slightly younger than Butler's Brad Stevens, who got his job at age 30 and has gone 56-10 over the last two seasons. Calipari was 29 when he became the head coach at UMass.

Over the next several days, Pastner will have to assemble a staff -- one or more members of the previous staff could remain on board -- and try to persuade some, if not all, of Memphis' signed recruits to remain with the program. Hiring Pastner could help convince some players on the current roster to stay.

Pastner will also have to address his potential involvement in the ongoing NCAA investigation into Arizona's program over alleged recruiting violations. The self-reported violations stemmed from an on-campus recruiting event known as the Cactus Classic. Olson signed a letter asking Arizona donors to support the event, which violates NCAA rules since boosters are not allowed to pay for expenses of recruits.

It wasn't clear what Pastner would be paid to replace Calipari. As an assistant coach in 2008-09, Pastner was paid a base salary of $200,000, making him the 10th highest salaried employee at the University of Memphis, according a database of Tennessee Board of Regents employees' salaries.


Age: 31

Hometown: Kingwood, Texas

Coaching experience: Assistant coach and lead recruiter on John Calipari's Memphis staff (2008-2009 season); Arizona assistant (2002-2008).

Exclamation point: Considered a strong recruiter and instrumental in Arizona landing such players as Chase Budinger, Jerryd Bayless and Jordan Hill.

Question mark: Lack of head coaching experience.

Call Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his Tiger basketball stories and blog at

1 comment:

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