Memphis Tigers: Penny Hardaway Mania hits the Bluff City. What are the risks and rewards of a coaching change?

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway played high school basketball at Treadwell in Memphis.

He then played college basketball at Memphis State University from 1991-1993.

Penny was the 3rd pick in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Golden St Warriors, and was traded to the Magic, along with 3 future 1st round picks, for #1 pick Chris Webber.

Penny Hardaway was, and still is, a transcendent superstar.

Does that mean he’s going to be a slam dunk coaching hire for the University of Memphis, if they decide to part ways with future Hall of Fame coach Tubby Smith?

Of course not.

But it might be the best option for the school right now, due to the circumstances surrounding the school.

I don’t know that Tubby Smith even necessarily wants to deal with this Memphis job anymore.  I have also heard from multiple people that Tubby did not know what he was walking into when he took this job.  He had friends in the coaching community that told him that Memphis is a great job, and that he should consider it, but he did not understand what all it entails.

Memphis is a community basketball program.  It takes the right person, surrounded by the right people, to be successful, and if you don’t do something to get the fanbase excited, they’ll turn on you.

It’s not like it used to be, where Tiger basketball was the only thing in town.  This generation’s Memphis sports fans have the option of spending their money on Tiger Football, the Grizzlies, the Redbirds, the NBA G-League Hustle, and, beginning in 2019, the expansion Memphis USL soccer team.

The University of Memphis basketball program has to do something to get their swagger back in their own city, and hiring Penny Hardaway could help with that.

So let’s go through all of the risks and rewards.

 

RISK: Failure could destroy a hometown hero.

Penny is this generation’s Larry Finch.

Larry Finch, who played at Melrose High School in Memphis, played at Memphis State from 1969-1973, was a hero to Tiger basketball fans, and he took over the head coaching job at the school in 1986.

Finch was beloved in this city, and was loved when he took over the program.  Tiger fans loved having one of their own as the head coach.

Finch had a record of 220-130, and, thanks to John Calipari’s entire 2007-2008 season being vacated, is still the winningest coach in Memphis history.

But the way that his tenure ended was a bit disgusting, even though everyone agreed it was time for it to come to an end.  Finch was fired in the concourse of the Pyramid in Memphis after his last game, and it was a bit disrespectful to a coach that had grown up and given so much to his hometown and his school.

Hopefully, if Penny is hired and it doesn’t go well, he will be treated better than Finch was, but the idea of people looking at Penny differently, if his coaching career does not go well, is a real possibility.

 

RISK: Could Penny’s past TSSAA issues, and possibly bringing in Larry Brown, lead to future NCAA issues?

This year, Penny Hardaway is dealing with TSSAA issues.  The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association ruled that 2 players on Penny’s Memphis East team were ineligible due to a “prior link” rule for transfers.

Larry Brown, who it’s been reported that Hardaway is interested in having join his staff at Memphis, is a fantastic head coach, but he’s had NCAA trouble all over the place.  Brown is the only coach in history to win an NBA Championship and an NCAA Tournament Championship, but he’s also had 3 different teams (UCLA, Kansas, and SMU) placed on NCAA probation.

These are two guys that have shown that they will play loosely with the rules.

 

RISK: You’re hiring a head coach that has never coached at the college level.

Penny is the “sponsor” for Team Penny – one of the top 5 AAU programs in the country.

He’s been the head coach at East High School for several years now, and is the favorite to lead East to their 3rd straight state championship this season.

But coaching in high school is different than coaching in college.

The media expectations are different.  The recruiting is different than it is in AAU ball.  Everything is different.  It’s all amped up, and fans take it way more seriously than they probably should.

One of the key things that Penny has never done, but will need to quickly learn to do, is create a good relationship with the media members in this town.

The media runs this town.  Penny has never had to jump on the radio and try to “sell” anything.

He won’t have to sell this, at first, but there will come a time when he’ll need to.

He’s going to be the face of the program.

Penny has never coached at this level.  But with the increased risk of moving from high school to college, there’s also a chance to grow his legacy even more so than his playing career ever could.

 

RISK: Penny has a lifestyle setup where he, currently, doesn’t have to “grind.”

Keith Easterwood has told me, and anyone else that would listen, that Penny loves playing golf.

He has a lifestyle setup where he can get up when he wants, workout when he wants… basically do whatever he wants.

Yes, there’s a schedule he has to adhere to as the coach at East High School.  But he does things on his own terms.

That changes if he is hired at the University of Memphis.

He will have bosses, and a fan base, that he has to answer to.

Does Penny want to deal with that?  Is the reward of being a legendary college basketball coach, in his hometown, at his alma mater, worth enough to give up his current lifestyle?

 

REWARD: Recruiting would get an immediate boost.

James Wiseman (5*, 2019 #1 player at 247sports.com)

Malcolm Dandridge (4*, 2019 #117 player at 247sports.com)

DJ Jeffries (4*, 2019 #26 player at 247sports.com)

Tyler Harris (3*, 2018 #128 player at 247sports.com)

Chandler Lawson (4*, 2019 #40 player at 247sports.com)

Johnathan Lawson (5*, 2021 #6 player at future150.com)

Shareef O’Neal (4*, 2018 #33 player at 247sports.com)

Anfernee Simons (5*, 2018 #7 player at 247sports.com)

 

These are all players that Penny Hardaway would immediately have a great chance to sign, if he takes over the University of Memphis head coaching job.

These are all players that Tubby Smith and his staff had no chance with, aside from Tyler Harris, who just doesn’t seem interested in playing for Tubby.

Now, obviously, Penny won’t get all of these players, but kids flock to this guy.  He’s still a global icon.  The Nike Air Penny shoes are still insanely popular.  He’ll be able to get kids way more effectively than Tubby Smith has been able to, even with the decline of the Memphis program’s brand.

 

REWARD: Excitement could reach Calipari era levels.

The Memphis basketball attendance average dipped around 6,000 people per game – and that’s just tickets distributed.  There were always significantly less than that in the stands this past year.

But this city is worked up in a frenzy the likes of which I’ve never seen, even under Calipari.

People are excited for the first time since that first Memphis Madness under Josh Pastner, when fans were trying to prove that Memphis could still have a top 10 basketball program without Calipari.

Season tickets may not sell out, but they’ll improve, drastically, if Memphis hires Hardaway.

Gary Parrish always says that there are only 2 things that excite a fan base – a good product, and hope.

This program has had neither in the last 4 seasons.

Penny changes the “hope” aspect immediately.

And if he can recruit like fans believe he can, the product will shift as well.

 

REWARD: There would be an immediate financial boost for the University.

Excitement leads to money.  Period.

In the last 4 seasons – the last 2 of Josh Pastner, and these 2 years of Tubby Smith – the “announced” average attendance dropped from top 10 in the country, at over 16,000 people, to right at 6,000 people, and not even top in the American Athletic Conference.

Tubby Smith makes $3M a year, the lost income from the Grizzlies / FedEx Forum was about $800k this year, and the lost season ticket sales donations reached over $1.1M this season.  That’s roughly $5M that Smith cost the University this season, and it looks to continue that for the 3 years left on Tubby’s contract.

A change was needed, because it costs more to keep him than to part ways.

Gary Parrish stated on his radio show that he asked a source close to the University of Memphis if the school knew how much it would cost to keep Tubby Smith as head coach, and the source responded “to the penny.”

This program needs hope, and I don’t know that there’s another coach out there that could do that, at this point, than Penny Hardaway.

 

REWARD: Penny is reaching out to perfect assistant coaching candidates that would help teach him how to run a program.

These are the names that Penny is interested in bringing in to be assistant coaches:

  • Larry Brown
  • Paul Hewitt
  • Tony Madlock

There’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to get all of these guys, but this at least lets people know that Penny understands that he needs head coaching experience with him to help him learn everything that goes into heading up a college basketball program.

Larry Brown – NCAA problems aside – has taken 8 NBA teams to the playoffs, and 3 college teams to the NCAA Tournament, including taking UCLA to a national championship game appearance, and Kansas to an national championship game win.

Brown is an absolutely phenomenal coach.  He had last coached college basketball 1988, returned to coach SMU in 2012, and led the team to a 94-39 record.  The guy knows his stuff, and he could teach Hardaway the ins and outs of being a head coach.

Paul Hewitt is mostly known for coaching Georgia Tech.

You wanna talk about recruiting?  At Georgia Tech, Hewitt coached the team to an NCAA Championship game appearance in his 4th season, and attracted such talent as Thaddeus Young, Derrick Favors, Iman Shumpert, Jarrett Jack, B.J. Elder, Chris Bosh, and a slew of others.  He coached Georgia Tech from 2000 to 2011.

Tony Madlock is currently the interim head coach at Ole Miss, and he’s had ties to the city of Memphis for years… mainly because he played with Penny Hardaway at Memphis State.  Madlock has been an assistant coach, at the collegiate level, for over 20 years.  He knows the ins-and-outs of the business as well, and he’s already got a built-in relationship with Penny.

Penny knows he needs guys with experience, and these are the names already being floated.

 

REWARD: Loves coaching and helping kids, and his city.

Penny Hardaway started coaching several years ago at Lester Middle School, as a dying wish for his friend, Desmond Merriweather.

If you don’t know the story, you should read it.

When Hardaway returned to the rough and tumble of Binghamton, he saw little had changed from his days of playing on the hard courts. Those courts still drew a constant stream of players, the streets were still infested with gangs and the kids on the team were as vulnerable as he once was.

“That was me walkin’ through those same halls. Didn’t have a father.  My mom was gone.  I was raised by my grandmother,” he said. “I know exactly where they’re comin’ from.”

Hardaway put education first, walking the school’s halls to check on his players and demanding progress reports. He preached doing the right thing. He even personally appealed to gang leaders to stay away.

“Because there are no fathers there,” said Hardaway. “The moms are really workin’ hard to try to make ends meet, and the neighborhood is tough, very tough. And you could get lost into that neighborhood if you’re not careful.”

“And I wanted to stay there to try to change the culture, the mindset,” he continued. “To bring a winning attitude to the school.”

The team had little confidence when Hardaway first arrived. But his investment, on and off the courts, stirred something in the Lester Lions. Their grades jumped. Their play soared.

He really is like a father figure to me, because my father really is not in my life,” said starter Alex Lomax, nicknamed “A-Lo,” who has spent the last three years under Hardaway’s wingspan. “If Coach Penny wasn’t around, I think Binghamton would be a whole different place right now and I don’t think I would be right here in this seat right now.”

“I’m just thankin’ God that he let me be around Coach Penny for how long I get to be around,” he said.

Penny went from there to coaching at Memphis East, and sponsoring the Team Penny AAU / EYBL summer basketball team.

He’s not making a ton of money from this – he’s helping kids.

If he takes the University of Memphis head basketball coaching position, he’ll be helping not only his alma mater, but his city, as well.


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About Gary Segars 599 Articles
Gary began his first website in 1998 as a sophomore in high school, writing reviews of cds and live shows in the Memphis area. He became editor of his college newspaper, then moved towards a career in music.He started the infamous MemphisTider.com blog during the 2006 football season, and was lucky enough to get into blogging just before the coaching search that landed Nick Saban at Alabama. The month and a half long coaching search netted his site, which was known for tracking airplanes, over 1 million hits in less than 90 days. The website introduced Gary to tons of new friends, including Nico and Todd, who had just started the site RollBamaRoll.com.After diving into more than just Alabama news, Gary started up his first installment of WinningCuresEverything.com in 2012. After keeping the site quiet for a while, it was started back up in April 2016. Gary then joined forces with high school friend Chris Giannini and began a podcast during the 2016 football season that runs at least 2 times a week, focusing on college football, NFL football, and sports wagering, and diving into other sports and pop-culture topics.E-mail: gary@winningcureseverything.com Twitter: @GaryWCE