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Should Josh Pastner get out of Memphis?

Mar 23, 2013, 5:30 PM EDT

Memphis v Michigan State Getty Images

If you’re one of those jumpy Memphis fans who wants to get rid of Josh Pastner because he’s failed to live up to the Calipari mythos, I’d counsel patience. If you can’t appreciate the upward trend that’s right in front of your faces, nobody is ever going to make you happy. The Tigers have won more than 20 games in each of Pastner’s four seasons, and each season the number of wins has increased. This year, Memphis was 16-0 in league play and topped 30 wins.

And all that is nice. As power-conference fans will gleefully point out, it’s easier to make it to those milestones in C-USA, and they don’t matter if you can’t win in the NCAA Tournament. I’ll cede that point even though I don’t like the snide tone of the discourse.

So let’s look beyond the numbers and go to the eyeball test. If you watched Memphis lose to Michigan State in the Round of 32, you know what I’m talking about.

I lost count of how many times a blue-clad body hit the floor in pursuit of a loose ball. Memphis’ defense was sloppy, but persistent. D.J. Stephens rising above the rim to block shots will be a recurring theme in the One Shining Moment video. Dudes were jumping out of their shoes half the game.

The Tigers played hard and loose, and never gave up. They were a reflection of their coach, who got so involved in the defensive effort he performed impromptu calesthenics in the coach’s box. Did he look like a hyperactive goofball? Sure, but ask UCLA fans if they’d prefer an energetic goober or a phlegmatic spectator on the bench when the time comes to lay it all on the line.

My colleague Rob Dauster will tell you that Pastner is not a good fit in Memphis, where his clean-cut approach is out-of-sync with the city’s inherent toughness. He’s not wrong. Pastner also has a long way to go before anyone mentions his name and gravitas in the same sentence. Finally, the time has come when his obvious recruiting ability has to be coupled with tactical brilliance, and if Pastner can’t acquire that for himself, he needs to hire it. Think Steve Lavin and Gene Keady, though, you know, with more actual winning.

In the end, Pastner probably must leave Memphis to achieve his true potential. He may have reached his pinnacle at Memphis already. But as the annual rumors of big-time programs pursuing Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens – also straight-arrows – heat up, is it really that far off the mark to imagine that Josh Pastner might be the third guy on that list of phone calls?

Keep an eye on the coaching carousel, is all I can say.

To follow along with the 2013 Coaching Carousel, click here.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

  1. namriverrat69 - Mar 23, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    John Wooden didn’t win a championship for many years after becoming a head coach. Josh Pastner is a great coach, a great recruiter and a positive role model for his players. Memphis would be hard pressed to find someone with his abilities to replace him with – unless he has a clone.

    I would have loved for him to stay at Arizona and take over for Lute Olson. That didn’t work out. Sean Miller is a stellar coach who will win championships at AZ.

    Josh Pastner will win at Memphis if they will believe in him and trust the program to him a little more. He is a great learner and he will make you proud. There are a ton of schools who will offer him jobs if Memphis lets him go. That would be a huge mistake on Memphis part. You are winning every year. Championships will come. . .

  2. long2know - Mar 24, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    Memphis should do everything in their power to keep Pastner.

    I agree 100% with everything @namriverrat69 said..

  3. ncrdbl1 - Mar 25, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    I wish those in the media would stop the crap of trying to get young promising coaches to leave schools that are not part of the big 5 conferences. Especially when they have no idea what they are talking about. Memphis fans are NOT trying to hold anyone up to Cal standards. We LOATHE Cal and have no desire to have anything or anyone compared to him. Only the national media is making that comparison. Pastner is a good coach still learning his trade at this level. He is learning quickly and will be one of the major names in the sport by the time he has 10 years under his belt. He runs a clean operation where the students actually get an education. Plus he is a big winner. The Tiger’s APR score for the last recording period is 1000. EVERY senior has gotten their degree and half the Jr class is eligible for post graduate transfer if they wish due to already having their degree before next season starts. He has been and can be successful on a major level in Memphis as long as he wants to be there. His philosophy and character is perfect for the Memphis area. The ONLY problem he has is that the new A-hole of an AD wants to control scheduling. Other than that there is no legitimate reason for Pastner to leave a major basketball school in Memphis and move to school where basketball is not only second fiddle but the school is second fiddle in college basketball in it’s home town. USC basketball is at best number 4 in the basketball market in LA..

  4. sglahn2013 - Mar 25, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    Dear Tom,

    I live in Los Angeles, but I grew up in Memphis and have been a Tiger fan
    all of my life. I have traveled all over to watch them including Hawaii for
    the Maui tournament. I love the Tigers, and I am very concerned about
    falling into a state of mediocrity. RC and I have had respectful email
    exchanges, and I will forward you those emails following this one. I hope
    you take the time to read this and at least consider what I am saying.

    I am writing today in hopes that you can help me understand what our goals
    are for Memphis Basketball.  Is it # of wins in regular season? Is it
    Conference championships ? Is it just to make the dance? Is advancing in the
    dance a priority? Sweet Sixteens? Final Fours? Championships?

    This is not an attack on Josh. It’s not personal. He seems like a real nice
    guy. I don’t think Pastner is a bad coach. He has served his purpose and
    done a good job against Conf USA teams. He has recruited a #2 class and one
    class ranked #23 and two years not ranked in 4 years. Now in his 5th,
    currently a top 5 class. So, he is a good recruiter. Great Recruiter? Not so
    much. And even though he had the #2 class in 2010, he STILL has not beaten
    one Top 25 team with those players. Not one. So maybe he got some high stars
    that year, but he just cant evaluate talent ? Or is it that the talent is
    there, but he just cant coach at a high level ? Is he just unlucky ?

    BUT most importantly he can not win basketball games of significance. That’s
    not my opinion. Unfortunately, that’s a fact. In 4 seasons, every time he
    has coached a game against a top 25 – he lost. Every single time. These are
    his players. His team. No excuses. Can he win in the future? That would be
    pure speculation. What he has proven and it can not be debated, is that he
    can not win big games.

    This is why 31 wins and beating up on teams in Conference USA is such a
    smoke screen.

    Michigan St plays tough games all year. We don’t. They have an incredible
    proven coach. We don’t. They win big games. We don’t.

    Pastner’s biggest win in 4 years:

    St Mary’s

    That is not an incredible resume. Does it really matter if he is one of the
    “winningest coaches” at Memphis if he can not win one game of significance
    in FOUR years? Not one. Is that not a high flying red flag? Yes, Michigan
    St. is a great team, and it might not hurt as bad or concern me as much that
    we lost if Pastner had won some games. Hell- ONE. One game.

    How long do we have to wait for him to win a game. We’re now going on half a
    decade! 5 years, 6, 7, 8????

    The reason we were a 6 seed this year and high seeds since he has been at
    Memphis is because even though we have 25+ wins a year, he does not win
    games out of conference against ranked teams. Period. Cal did. So Cal would
    get low seeds and an easier path to the sweet sixteen.

    I really hope the Athletic dept cares about this and recognizes this and
    most importantly addresses it. It’s enough already. The game against
    Michigan St was simple. A BCS team with a great coach beat down a mid major
    team with a coach learning on the job. Unacceptable. The University of
    Memphis loves and needs our fans and support. Our fans love the Memphis
    Tigers and need results. That’s fair.

    Ben Howland goes to my Church, and I have had the pleasure of getting to
    know him over the past 5 years. He took Ucla to the Final 4 three years IN A
    ROW and won the conference this year and they fired him because he didn’t
    make it to the sweet sixteen after a few years of mediocrity.

    Win or your fired. At some point you have to win a game and advance in the

    4 Seasons. No big wins. Period. Don’t you think it is time to have that
    conversation with Josh that Ucla had with Howland? Josh, you have done a
    good job but not a great job. We love that you love Memphis and want to win.
    We want you to stay and succeed, but this is year 5 and you need to win a
    game and advance in the tournament. Its enough already.

    All of this is a shame because we do have some talent and flash, but
    something isn’t right. I can just feel it when I watch them. They are one of
    those teams that can be good, but not on a consistent basis against the good
    teams. Not close. We are shaky at best, and that isn’t the kind of team that
    goes to Final Fours. Final Fours is still what this program is about, right

    I think Pastner is the problem. Numbers are numbers, and that’s one thing
    that no one can debate.

    His win/loss record is awesome. But everyone that knows anything about hoops
    knows that the elephant in the room with the win/loss record is Conference
    USA. BUT…. when you can win that many games in any conference, that’s
    good. So Pastner isn’t a “bad” coach. He is a good coach with the luck of
    having Memphis talent and fan support, but far far far from a great coach.
    “Energy” can only go so far. At some point experience at coaching
    matters…..that is if Final Fours are still what we are about.

    The team is high flying and exciting. They are going to win a lot of games
    and be fun to watch. So my questions for you and fellow Tiger fans are:

    **What is our standard for winning? To win Conference Usa or whatever
    conference we are in? To just at least make it to the dance ? Final Fours?
    Championships ?

    ** If we win 30 games and win Conf USA or our new Conference, but lose the
    first or second round of the dance—-Is that ok with you? How many years
    under those conditions is it ok? 5,6,7,10 years? Would there ever be
    consequences? When?  I have a feeling that UNC,Duke,Kansas,Mich St, etc
    would not care how many games they won during the season if they were bumped
    out of the dance first or second round, or didn’t even make it to the dance
    or couldn’t beat a top 25 team in 4 years. I think heads would roll, that is
    why they are Champions. Mediocrity is not an option for them.

    I worry that some of our fans and the Athletic Department are caught up in
    the regular season # of wins and Conference Championships-  happy with 25-30
    wins a season and at least an appearance in the dance. Advancing doesn’t
    seem to be a necessity. I think that the # of wins Pastner has and his
    recruiting class in 2010 and the potential top 5 class this year, alongside
    the high flying exciting Tigers in Conference USA is a HUGE smoke and
    mirrors show. Advancing doesn’t seem to be a priority or a must. It’s like,
    we hope we do, but it probably stops right there. I can tell you that Nick
    Saban doesn’t think like that. Neither did Coach Cal. There has to be
    accountability at some point and players have come and gone, but the one
    common denominator is Josh Pastner.

    I have never seen a trophy for a top 5 recruiting class. You have to win
    with them. I hope he does. I just don’t see it happening. Not with Josh
    Pastner. So far, he has proven he can not do that.

    I am tired of hearing that we are so worried about losing Josh. We are
    Memphis, and the head coaching job at Memphis is now a great job to have.
    There are plenty of big name coaches that would take this job if paid
    correctly. I want to be clear that I write this with respect, and I am not
    saying fire Josh Pastner, but I am saying that next year should be the year
    he has to make some tremendous strides and make the Sweet Sixteen at the
    very least.


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