Tubby Smith vs. Penny Hardaway intensifies at Memphis
There are plenty of reasons that Memphis might fire Tubby Smith after this season. Attendance is way down, the Tigers are set to miss the NCAA tournament for a second-straight year and the general health of the program is in question after losses to the likes of East Carolina and South Florida.
Plus, recruiting hasn’t been very good. Smith’s 2017 class featured a bunch of marginal recruits and junior college players. Things don’t look much better in 2018. So while the present isn’t great for Memphis, the future, in large part because of the recruiting, isn’t exactly appearing bright.
Well, Smith’s long-time attorney has a theory why recruiting may be such a struggle for Smith, and he points the finger at his rumored potential successor, Penny Hardaway, who heads the ultra-loaded grassroots program Team Penny in Memphis.
“If you’ve got somebody that wants the job and they’re controlling most of the talent in the city, I’m not casting aspersions. I’ll let you draw conclusions,” Ricky Lefft told the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Friday “But (Smith) gets hit with by the local media that he’s not getting the Memphis kids. They’re recruiting the Memphis kids. They’re bringing them on official visits. They’re making the phone calls. They’re going to the games. They’re talking to the parents.
“It would only be speculation on my part on what’s going on there, but it’s the worst kept secret in America that (Hardaway) wanted the job and there may come a time when coach has exited that he’ll get the job.”
Team Penny currently has four players ranked in the top 100 in the 2019 class, and Smith hasn’t signed a Memphis kid in his two years on the job.
Whether it’s the case that Hardaway, a Memphis alum and former NBA all-star, is actually keeping kids from joining his alma mater as some point of leverage to drive Smith out is obviously unclear, but it’s a pretty pointed accusation to make. For Smith’s representation to say it to a newspaper is incredibly bold and probably a pretty good indication of how much jeopardy Smith’s job is with the Tigers.
The other thing is that it also serves as an indirect recommendation of the job for Hardaway. If he could keep kids from Memphis, it stands to reason he could get them there if he were the Tigers’ coach. Which would certainly help make the program more competitive.
Aside from throwing speculation Hardaway’s way, Lefft also claimed that Memphis brass told Smith that the Tigers were headed for the Big 12 when they lured him away from Texas Tech two years ago.
“The first thing they told him is we’re going to the Big 12. It’s pretty much a lock,” he said. “He gets there and all of a sudden it appears as though they were never really a contender.
“There’s some people that now sit on the board that are some pretty significant folks, along with the president and both the athletic administrators who were part of the process, and (they) represented to him that this was going to happen.”
While the claims and innuendo are hard to prove or confirm, one thing is clear after Thursday - reporters should talk to Lefft more often.