After meeting with Memphis University officials Wednesday, men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith has been fired after two seasons with the team.
“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,” Memphis’ athletics department said in a statement. “Details are to be finalized, and no further comment will be offered.”
Smith, who coached Kentucky to its seventh national championship in 1998, had been head coach of the Tigers since 2016. His tenure with Memphis was hindered by high-profile transfers during the last offseason. Since leaving Kentucky in 2007, Smith has also coached at Minnesota and Texas Tech.
Smith was in the second year of a five-year, $15.45 million contract.
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Speculation on Memphis’ next coach has centered around Penny Hardaway, a former Memphis player and NBA star who has recently made a name for himself coaching on the AAU circuit helping groom a number of top recruits.
After going 19-13 in his first year, six players, including his top three scorers announced they would transfer. Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Markel Crawford left Memphis after averaging a combined 44.3 points and 22.4 rebounds for the Tigers. The Lawson brothers transferred to Kansas. The Lawsons’ father, Keelon Lawson, left Smith’s staff, as well. Crawford transferred to Mississippi.
This month, Smith ranted in a postgame press conference about transferring players when asked whether he though all his players would be returning next season.
“We’re teaching them how to quit,” Smith said. “That’s what we’re doing. Things not going well, let’s quit.”
Smith’s critics, immediately noted that Smith had left a number of jobs for better opportunities, including Tulsa, Georgia and Texas Tech.
This year, Memphis had a 21-13 record, including going 10-8 in the American Athletic Conference, good for fifth place, but not good enough to earn a spot in the postseason for the second year in a row.
Smith has a 592-302 career record. His résumé also includes three National Coach of the Year awards (2003, 2005, 2016), four NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearances, nine NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearances, and 17 overall NCAA Tournament berths.
Kentucky was 263-83 overall and 120-40 in Southeastern Conference play in his 10 years as head coach from 1997 to 2007. He was an assistant coach at UK under Rick Pitino from 1989 to 1991 before taking his first head coaching job at Tulsa.
In 2013, Smith was elected to the UK Athletic Hall of Fame.