Memphis is considering firing head coach Tubby Smith and bringing in hometown icon Penny Hardaway to replace him, CBS Sports reports.
The report cites multiple sources confirming that Hardaway is “actively preparing to be a college coach.” And here’s the kicker. If hired, Hardaway is considering bringing on Larry Brown as a member of his staff, according to the CBS report.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are scheduled to play UCF Thursday in the AAC Tournament in Orlando. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal reached out to Memphis president M. David Rudd, who declined to confirm Smith’s job security.
“We’re not going to respond,” Rudd told the Commercial-Appeal when asked about Smith. “We’re going to evaluate the program at the end of the year.”
Interest in the program has waned under Smith on the heels of sustained success under John Calipari and Josh Pastner. After seeing an average of 16,000 fans for home games four years ago under Pastner, the Tigers saw attendance plummet to a 48-year low of just more than 6,000 fans per game this season. The 2017-18 season marks the sixth straight year of declining attendance for the program.
In short, the program has struggled, and interest has followed suit.
But Hardaway would be an instant injection of energy for the program. A Memphis native who played for the Tigers from 1991-93, Hardaway was a part of one of the early ’90s most exciting young NBA teams paired up with Shaquille O’Neal on the Orlando Magic. Knee injuries ultimately cut short his career from reaching its full potential, but he remains a beloved figure in basketball circles and in Memphis in particular.
Hardaway helms the Team Penny Nike EYBL program and is the head coach at East High in Memphis. He coaches Rivals’ No. 2 2019 prospect James Wiseman and fellow five-star prospect Chandler Lawson at East High. Meanwhile, four-star prospect D.J. Jeffries plays for Team Penny. His ties to those players have obvious appeal for a program that has struggled to attract talent under Smith, who hasn’t landed a Memphis player in his two years on the job.
The Tigers would owe Smith $9.75 million if they released him from his contract this year. But it appears the have the motivation to eat that cost.
We likely won’t know anything for sure until after Memphis plays its final game in AAC play.
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