No, Tubby Smith is not quitting. He is not letting Memphis off the hook that easily. Don’t get your hopes up, Memphis fans, because Smith said “maybe not” when asked if he is the right man for the Memphis job. He’s not walking away from $9.75 million over the next three years.
But let’s go right to the audio tape, shall we?
The comments came in the wake of former Memphis player Antonio Anderson’s most recent criticism of the Memphis coach. Anderson — who was inducted into the M Club Hall of Fame on Saturday — said Smith is not “the right fit for the job at that school.”
So Smith was asked if is he the right fit after Memphis lost to UCF Sunday. And he said, “Well, maybe not.”
That’s what caused some Memphis fans to start hoping. Could it be that Smith will throw in the towel? Could it be that he is weary of the criticism and the second-guessing and the embarrassing losses?
Answer: Not a chance.
Indeed, Smith’s remarks didn’t end with the “maybe not” comment. It’s important to read the answer in full.
“Well, maybe not,” the former University of Kentucky coach began. “A lot of people believe that. That’s always something that happens in this business. It’s what it is and I’ve been there before. So we try to do the best job we can. We do it religiously. We do it consistently. It takes time.”
In other words: Smith has heard all the criticism and second-guessing. But he is not impressed. He’s going to do the job the way he has always done the job. And — according to Smith, at least, who must not be paying attention to what’s happening all around the college basketball universe — that takes time.
So why did he say “maybe not?” to begin his answer?
For a coach who has been in the business for a long time, he has a remarkable ability to say the wrong thing.
This is a guy who explained why his recruiting class consists of one top-300 player by saying “I don’t know what the big beef is about, competing in the world today for Memphis is a big difference than what it was 10 years ago.”
This is a guy who described his philosophy on losing players to transfer by saying, “I’m one of those guys, I am who I am, you’re going to toe the line, you’re going to play the right way, or you just leave.”
This is a guy who said after the loss to East Carolina that his players need “psychological help.”
Now this is a guy who said he is “maybe not” the right fit for the job.
My own sense is Smith was trying to be self-deprecating. Remember when John Calipari used to talk about the for sale signs that were in his front yard? This was like that. Smith was wryly acknowledging the criticism, before dismissing it out of hand.
The problem is that not many other people are dismissing it. Smith really isn’t the right fit for the Memphis program. He’s not interested in selling tickets, he hasn’t recruited a single player from the city of Memphis, and he has little patience for the intense scrutiny that comes with the gig.
I’ve known this for a good while now. You’ve probably known it, too. But it’s a totally different thing to hear Smith say it, even if he didn’t mean what he said.
Do I think Smith’s comments could hasten his exit from Memphis?
That seems unlikely, at best. Smith is still owed that $9.75 million over the next three years. He is widely respected across college basketball. Just last week, Memphis athletics director Tom Bowen gave Smith an implicit vote of confidence in a radio interview.
“Sometimes year two doesn’t go as well as you thought it would be. But year three,” Bowen said, tells “you about where you think you’re going to be.”
This is poppycock, of course. Given the current state of recruiting, there is nothing to suggest that year three will be demonstrably better than year two. But Bowen is invested in Smith’s success, at least in part because he hired him. It would take some serious unraveling for Memphis to make a change when this season is done.
So relinquish that fantasy, Memphis fans. Brace yourselves for at least one more year of the same. Smith may have given voice to what many people believe, but he was just saying the wrong thing, yet again.