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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sports 56 WHBQ: Thoughts on Pastner

From Sports 56 WBHQ Blog

So all the hysteria and craziness that surrounded the University of Memphis basketball coaching position has officially died down now that Josh Pastner has been in the position for a few days. As I said when the hire was announced, it’s impossible to call this a great hire because we don’t know anything about Pastner as a head coach, but you really can’t call it a bad hire either, what I say is that it’s a hire that makes a lot of sense.

Throughout this whole process we heard a lot of names come up, some realistic, others not so much, and what I can say is that while I think some would have been better than Pastner, there were many that would have been worse than Pastner too.

The biggest criticism of the U of M during this coaching change, was their process in hiring the new coach, and I think much of the criticism is fair because this was definitely not the most well-run coaching search in history. In my opinion, the biggest mistake that R.C Johnson and the search committee made was grossly overestimating how attractive of a position they had. While they set out to make their “Wow” hire, they failed to realize the reality of what their position offered. In the end, this is still a “non-BCS” conference job and the folks at Memphis didn’t seem to realize that it is very rare for a coach to leave a BCS school for a non-BCS school. The original list of candidates simply included too many names that weren’t realistic. I said numerous times during the search that in order to “make a splash” you have to have water, and I didn’t think this program had that level of water.

What John Calipari did here, was raise the program above its conference affiliation and make it seem like a better job than what it is, but in doing so, he also raised expectations from the fans and any prospective coach can easily realize that it will not be easy to meet those expectations. Coach Cal was able to recruit the top players in the country, despite the conference, because of his ties to World Wide Wes and his ability to oversell his and the program’s ability to get players to the NBA. Not many coaches have the ability to do that, and when they are already making a couple million dollars a year somewhere else and they are winning and comfortable, they sure as hell aren’t going to take the chance of giving it up for a risky proposition like Memphis and CUSA. So Cal fooled the fans and even his own athletic department into thinking the job was a very attractive job in the college basketball landscape, but when it came down to it, the prospective hires saw through it all to what it is, a program in a mediocre conference that has played at a level far above that conference for four years, all the while creating expectations for continued success that may be impossible to meet.

Taking everything into consideration, Josh Pastner looks like a good fit for the Tigers. When you realize the field of possible coaches doesn’t include many proven head coaches, you might as well take a shot with a hot shot young coach who is a hard worker, great recruiter and has worked under great coaches while learning his craft(you’d have to learn a few things spending all those years as a player and assistant under Lute Olson wouldn’t you?). Pastner fits all of those descriptions and he was already a part of the program so the current players already know him and he was the man already selling the program to recruits. He is also a very likable guy with an engaging personality that plays well in the media which was a big part of Calipari’s success as well.

I still say that if I had been in charge of the hiring process, Andy Kennedy would be the Tigers head coach, but they elected to avoid him because of his ongoing legal proceedings in Cincinnati and if that is their choice then so be it. Not sure why an argument with a cab driver prevents you from being the coach of the team, but hitting a girl or getting in a fight at a club doesn’t prevent you from playing on the team, but that’s not my decision to make.

I do want to wish Pastner good luck and I hope the fans will be patient. Next year is going to be a rebuilding year and you shouldn’t expect the same level of success that Calipari enjoyed the last few years. Just remember that Calipari’s whole nine years were not like the last four, the first five years included NIT berths and numerous conference losses. Hopefully, Pastner’s recruiting ability will lead to more great players coming to Memphis and the Tigers continuing to dominate CUSA and advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament. If that does happen however, don’t get upset when Pastner then moves on to a bigger, better job, it’s just the nature of the business.

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