How many times have you heard somebody say this? "Pastner needs to hire someone to help him with Xs and Os. He can recruit, but he can't coach."
That would be Josh Pastner, of course, the University of Memphis' head basketball coach, whose Tigers fell in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament and finished at 24-10. Last year's version of this remark was: "He's never beaten a Top 25 school."
Critics aren't saying that now because Pastner's team beat five ranked teams this season in 11 tries. And those who say he needs help with Xs and Os would probably find disagreement from Rick Pitino, Mark Few, and Larry Brown — three legendary coaches who Pastner's team defeated this year.
It's possible that Pastner can't coach, but it's also possible that the four senior guards — the "Four Kings" — were overhyped, not the least by Pastner. It turned out that four kings and two skinny kids down low was not the formula for success fans had hoped for. The truth is, in some games, the kings shot like queens. When they made shots, Memphis beat some very tough teams. When they clanked the rim, they got beaten, sometimes handily.
But this is Memphis, where patience is for losers. Some "Negative Nellies," as Pastner calls them, are saying it's time for a coaching change. Really?
Pastner's winning percentage after five years is around .750. His players graduate and are model citizens. Stories about his generosity and kindness to kids, old folks, the infirm, and the average fan are legion. He's accessible to the media and gives time to countless charities and nonprofits. He's a top-ranked recruiter. He doesn't drink, smoke, or cuss. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better representative for the city and the university.
At this point in his career, he's a good coach but not yet a great one. Does he have greatness in him? It's too early to tell — he's 36 years old — but if you think the university is going to pay millions to buy out Pastner on the chance they might (or might not) hire a better coach, you are more than delusional. World-Wide Wes, anyone?
Besides, I don't think Pastner's problem is Xs and Os. I think his problem is that he comes across as your sweet, kinda goofy brother who went off to join Up with People. He lacks gravitas.
His televised pregame speech before the team's final loss went something like this: "Guys, I've been to the Sweet 16, okay? And I want you to experience it, okay? Guys, there's no feeling like it, okay?" Not exactly Bobby Knight.
Instead of an Xs and Os guy, Pastner needs to hire a communications coach, someone to show him a better way to deliver his message — how to not oversell his talent or his opponent's, for example — somebody to show him how to motivate and how to keep it real. Too much positivity can create negativity, because people will tune you out.
Pastner is right about one thing: Winning really is hard. And so is patience.