Look, Coach, it’s not the loss that hurts. Not really. Y’all had a good year, and you lived up to the hype and expectations that built slowly back up after the season’s bumpy start. So when you won your first NCAA tournament game, the celebration was deserved. The sinking feeling that came after the subsequent stomping, however, wasn’t simply because the season had ended. It was because everyone in Memphis knows by now that the end of a successful basketball season means the start of Poaching Season. There was no “we’ll get ‘em next year,” because there was very little hope of having the same “we.” And that included you.
As soon as teams began falling out of the tournament and open coaching positions materialized, every fan in Memphis wondered the same thing: Where’s Pastner going to go? Surely our golden boy would be happier in, say, the Golden State. We couldn’t expect a rising star like yourself, coming off of a perfect conference record, to hang around and withstand the inevitably tough transition into the Big East. Not when an established national team comes calling. Likewise for many of your star players — a big year in a small place makes a great stepping stone toward bigger, brighter things. It happens. We’re used to it.
But bless your heart, you proved us wrong. Instead of looking off in the distance for a better offer, you used that legendary optimism to see what’s already right in front of you.
Memphis, man. It’s so freakin’ great, right?
I mean, you already know about the sports stuff, but I would remind you that not every town takes college basketball as seriously as this one. UCLA is a good school and all, but if you asked 100 Angelenos who coaches their basketball team, you’d be escorted out by security at least 37 times.
Beyond that, though, the fundamental essence of Memphis is something that simply can’t be duplicated. On paper, sure, other cities are richer or exercise more or have the slightest clue how their school system will be running in six months, but still. As much as it pains me to ask, how many songs are written about Minneapolis? No, not counting plinky-dinky folk songs. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
What’s really amazing about Memphis right now — and what must surely set your positivity phasers to stun — is its potential. We have as much history, both fantastic and tragic, as the entire constituency of the Big Ten combined, but for the first time in decades, we also have the heart and drive and energy of a dozen All-American freshmen (not literally; you’re a good recruiter and all, but not quite that good). Remember when Forbes magazine told everyone how miserable we were? They’re now calling us one of the country’s emerging cities. At a time when people could easily give up, pack up, and settle around the newest suburban big box oasis, residents are pushing for reinvestment in the heart of Memphis. From South Main to Crosstown to Overton Square, the holes are being filled in, not with random commercial scrambling but through creative, innovative, and responsible urban planning. We’ve been one of the country’s 20 largest cities for quite some time, but now we’re finally starting to act like it.
Look, Josh — can I call you Josh, since I’m old enough to be your, um, aunt? — I know you had a lot to consider, and the same questions will probably come up again in a year’s time. So as you think about what will bring your family happiness, what will make your career most fulfilling, and what will best shape your legacy, I’d just ask you to keep in mind that this city is everything you could want in a winning team. It’s tough, loyal, diverse, adaptable, humble, and a little goofy. Making it be everything it deserves to be isn’t going to be a fast or easy job, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
You and your top guys could go to plenty of other places right now. And really, so could a lot of us. But instead of trawling L.A. craigslist ads for $1,500 one-bedroom apartments, we choose to stay and make a great place even better. It’s not the one-and-done philosophy that dominated your predecessor’s program. It’s a long-term plan that builds on collective strength and talent, both of which Memphis has in abundance.
Some people are going to question your decision, JP, but as a Memphian by choice, I totally get it. You could go coach anywhere, sure. But where else but Memphis could you be part of such an incredible team?