Pastner feeling heat in Memphis despite only in second yearby Javier Morales on Dec. 18, 2010, under Sports
Former Arizona player and assistant coach Josh Pastner and his staff are a subject of criticism lately by some Memphis fans and media, particularly Memphis Commercial-Appeal columnist Dan Wolken.
After the Tigers escaped with a 70-68 victory over Austin Peay Thursday night, Wolken wrote some choice observations of Pastner, his team and his assistants. One of the more interesting comments: “Too many handlers whispering selfish poison into these talented young players’ ears. Too many assistant coaches worried about their next raise, rather than the next game. Too many fingers being pointed at the wrong targets, when a look in the mirror would suffice.”
Ouch. At last check, Memphis is 8-1. But then again, Arizona is a respectable 9-2 and coach Sean Miller has arguably been the most critical of his team’s lack of a consistent effort and ability to uphold the Arizona tradition (started really by Fred Snowden and pushed over the edge by Lute Olson).
Pastner is coaching in John Calipari‘s shadow immediately after replacing the high-profile coach who bolted to Kentucky last season. Miller is two interim coaches removed from Olson coaching his last game at Arizona. If Miller immediately replaced Olson and had similar difficulties with some of his players, and the team’s overall execution, the former Xavier coach might be under more of a microscope in Tucson.
Just ask Kevin O’Neill, who immediately followed Olson in 2007-08 and started out hot (and was dubbed Olson’s permanent successor by midseason) before the Wildcats fell apart toward the end of the year and O’Neill was not retained.
UA fans are willing to give Miller at least three years to get Arizona back on solid ground and able to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The patience appears to be running thin in Memphis for Pastner, who typically tries to put a positive spin on everything.
“Let’s talk about the positive,” Pastner was quoted as saying after the game Thursday. “We found a way to win.”
Pastner has already had to deal with removing freshman Jelan Kendrick, a McDonald’s All-American guard, from the team for personal reasons. Junior center Angel Garcia also left the team last week to pursue a professional career overseas.
More than 160 Memphis fan/follower comments were made at the end of Wolken’s column Thursday with the tone ranging from very supportive for Pastner to being very frank about the young second-year coach.
“Honeymoon’s over, Pastner” was one of the comments.
Another highly critical post by one of Wolken’s readers: “Hiring Pastner was a bad move. A school that imagines itself being among the ‘elite’ of college basketball should not hire an unknown, unskilled, unheard-of, inexperienced person such as Pastner. The U of M has damaged itself terribly with the hire. It will take years –and numerous coaches — to recover.”
One of the more positive reader comments about Pastner: “Coach Pastner can and will fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame others for his failures. I doubt we will ever see that by him. Coach Pastner is the right coach for the job.”
Wolken did not expand on his comment about the assistants being more concerned about their next raise. One of the assistant coaches is former UA student manager Jack Murphy, who earned his bachelor’s (English) and master’s (Educational Psychology) at Arizona. Murphy is one of the all-around good guys in the business whose work ethic and knowledge of the game has allowed him to become one of Pastner’s lead assistants.
Anybody who has a stamp of approval from Denver Nuggets coach George Karl must be worth his next paycheck. Murphy toiled eight seasons as an administrative assistant and team manager at Arizona before the Nuggets hired him in 2006 as an advance scout and video coordinator.
The bottom line is you have to give a new college coach a four-year cycle (until he fields a team entirely of his recruited players) to allow for a fair assessment of his value or capability. It’s not fair to believe Pastner will enjoy immediate success after replacing Calipari, who has built a reputation over 20 years.
After his first two seasons of coaching in 1988-89 and 1989-90 with UMass, Calipari, 29 when he started in Amherst, Mass., was 27-32. Calipari was afforded the opportunity to establish himself inasmuch as the Minutemen had a streak of 10 straight losing seasons and no NCAA tournament appearances since 1962 when he took over.
Not every coach can be like Olson, who almost miraculously took an Arizona program that went 4-24 before his arrival in 1983 to the NCAA tournament only two years later.