Memphis coach Penny Hardaway apologized via Instagram on Friday night to "my school, to the players, to our fans" for unleashing an expletive-laden tirade directed at media members following his team's third straight loss on Thursday. The 70-62 home loss against SMU dropped the Tigers to 9-8 (3-4 AAC) and underscored how their season has departed from the script after they began the season ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25.
Hardaway's initial rant followed a question about whether he's ever lost faith in his ability to get the job done at Memphis as he navigates his fourth season on the job with little on-court progress to show for some impressive recruiting results.
"I think the one thing I can say to this media, because this media gets kind of f---ed-up sometimes when it comes to me," Hardaway said. "We don't have our full roster. Y'all know we don't have our full roster. Stop asking me stupid f---ing questions about if I feel like I can do something. If I had my roster like they did, then I feel like I can do whatever I want to do. I'm coaching really hard, my boys are playing really hard. I'm not embarrassed about nothing. We have four freshmen starting. Y'all need to act like it.
"Act like we've got 17, 18 and 19-year olds out here trying to learn how to play against 22, 23 and 24-year-old guys. Come on, man. Stop disrespecting me, bro. Don't do that. I work too f---ing hard. I work way too hard for that. Y'all write all these all these bullshit articles about me, and all I do is work. We've got young kids on the floor."
Penny Hardaway's answer to if he can get the job done at Memphis.— Cassie Carlson (@CassieCarlsonTV) January 21, 2022
"Stop asking me stupid f***ing questions about if I feel like I can do something. If I had my roster like they did, then I feel like I can do whatever I want to do." pic.twitter.com/WA79u6Y7bc
A day after his rant, Hardaway walked-back his comments, although he didn't specifically apologize to the reporters on the receiving end of his tirade.
"Memphis, I just wanted to let you guys know that I love you," Hardaway said. "Tiger Nation — I love you. I want to issue an apology to my school, to the players, to our fans. I let my emotions get the best of me last night and that's not the way that you handle situations. I bleed Blue and I'm fighting always for my school, for my city, and for my players. We're working very hard. We know that there's adversity right now, but it's not going to stop us from working hard. We are going to make you guys proud. We're going to win. We're gonna get through this together. And to the fans that are fighting with us, thank you so much, we really appreciate it. You guys help push us through with your energy. And to my players, let's keep fighting on. We're nine and one strong. And again Memphis, I love you. Peace."
Against SMU, Memphis was without its leading returning scorers from last season in Landers Nolley and Deandre Williams, both of whom are versatile veterans who were expected to help the team build off of last season's NIT title. Williams has missed four straight games with a back injury, while Nolley has missed two straight with a knee injury.
But even without those two players, Memphis still deployed a rotation consisting of senior guards Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax, as well as two juniors in center Malcom Dandridge and wing Lester Quinones. Two of the the freshmen Hardaway started Thursday were five-star prospects Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, who headlined the program's top-ranked 2021 class.
The other was top-50 prospect Josh Minott. Meanwhile, the fourth starter who Hardaway characterized as a freshman is 21-year-old Miami transfer Earl Timberlake, who is listed as a sophomore on the Memphis roster.
Hardaway's tantrum and insistence on blaming youth come as the program has underperformed since the Memphis administration ousted Tubby Smith following the 2017-18 season to hire Hardaway, a high school coach revered locally for his collegiate career at Memphis and subsequent NBA stardom.
Since beating Virginia Tech on Nov. 24 to reach 5-0, Memphis is just 4-8. While injuries and COVID-19 issues have plagued the roster, so has disorganization and poor coaching. Memphis ranked last nationally in turnovers per game with 17.9 entering Thursday's action, and its defense has struggled to reach the levels of dominance it enjoyed in Hardaway's second and their seasons as coach. The Tigers have not yet reached the NCAA Tournament under Hardaway's watch, and it appears increasingly likely that only an AAC Tournament championship will get them to the Big Dance this season.
The AAC's favorite, Houston, meanwhile has successfully navigated injuries to key veterans with no problem this season and is currently the league's only projected NCAA Tournament team, according to Jerry Palm's Bracketology.