Memphis removes Tubby Smith after two years; top candidate is Penny Hardaway
Hardaway, a former Tigers star, is a high school coach in Memphis
Tubby Smith, who this season became just the second Memphis coach since 1951 to not reach a postseason tournament in either of his first two years, has been removed as the school's men's basketball coach, multiple sources told CBS Sports on Wednesday.
Smith subsequently confirmed the development to local media after exiting a meeting with Memphis President Dr. David Rudd. Minutes later, the school released the following statement: "After considerable deliberations and in the best financial interest of the University of Memphis, an agreement of separation with Head Men's Basketball Coach Tubby Smith has been reached. Details are to be finalized, and no further comment will be offered."
Memphis finished 1-7 vs. top-80 KenPom teams this season -- with six additional losses to teams ranked 105th or worse -- and is currently ranked 161st, which represents the lowest KenPom rating ever for the Tigers. More specifically, it's 71 spots worse than Josh Pastner's lowest-rated team and 86 spots worse than Pastner's last team that preceded him leaving for Georgia Tech under pressure.
Smith is owed $9.75 million.
It's a huge buyout.
But sources told CBS Sports the reality is that it would have, for a variety of reasons, likely cost Memphis more to keep Smith than to fire him. Four years ago under Pastner, Memphis averaged an announced attendance of more than 16,000 for games at FedExForum. This season under Smith, that number dipped to around 6,000 -- which is the lowest in nearly 50 years. And it's likely to lead to the Memphis Grizzlies paying the school zero percent of a possible $800,000 that the NBA franchise -- which operates FedExForum -- is required to pay when certain attendance marks are hit. Beyond that, season-ticket sales are significantly down, which means donations connected to season-ticket sales are also down more than $1 million. And considering recruiting is at a modern-era low, there was little enthusiasm connected to the program and thus no real reason to believe these troubling and costly trends would be reversed. So for all of those reasons and more, Memphis pulled the trigger.
Penny Hardaway is expected to replace Smith.
He is Memphis' most famous alum and currently the coach at East High in Memphis — where he has assembled an incredible roster favored to win a state championship this weekend. Between East High and his Nike EYBL program (Team Penny), Hardaway has ties to three top-40 players in the Class of 2019 -- No. 1 James Wiseman, No. 26 D.J. Jeffries and No. 40 Chandler Lawson — and many other high-major prospects. Sources told CBS Sports that Memphis officials believe Hardaway's hiring alone would change the narrative around the program and remove the negativity that has engulfed it since Smith lost six of his top eight players to transfer after last season.
"Memphis fans just want something to believe in," one source told CBS Sports last week. "Penny gives them something to believe in."
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