For Har­d­away and Mem­phis, tim­ing was ev­ery­thing

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Ge­off Calkins USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – TENN.

Imag­ine if the Univer­sity of Mem­phis hadn’t fired Tubby Smith af­ter just two years and hired Penny Har­d­away. Imag­ine how dif­fer­ent things would be.

Alex Lo­max wouldn’t have re­ceived his re­lease from Wi­chita State and then signed with Mem­phis. He’d be get­ting ready to play for a con­fer­ence ri­val.

Tyler Har­ris wouldn’t be join­ing Lo­max in an all-Mem­phis back­court. Even if Har­ris had some­how signed with Mem­phis — and odds are he was headed to Bay­lor — the pre­vi­ous staff essen­tially had con­ceded there was no way to get both play­ers.

Ant­wann Jones wouldn’t have signed with Mem­phis on Sun­day night. That’s yet an­other top-150 re­cruit who would not be here.

Isa­iah Mau­rice wouldn’t have signed with Mem­phis on Sun­day, ei­ther. He’d be headed to play at New Mex­ico.

If Mem­phis hadn’t fired Smith and hired Har­d­away, Mem­phis would not have a top-30 recruiting class on the way.

Mem­phis would not have sold thou­sands of new sea­son tickets.

The Red­birds would not have sold

nearly 6,000 penny tickets to their opener.

Life as a Mem­phis sports fan might seem sad and drab. In­stead? In­stead, Mem­phis bas­ket­ball fans are hav­ing as much fun as any col­lege bas­ket­ball fans in the coun­try. Some­times, it’s not just that you do some­thing, it’s when you do it.

That’s the point of this col­umn, truly. It’s not to pile on the de­parted Smith.

Tim­ing mat­ters. He who hes­i­tates is do­ing it wrong. In coach­ing as in life.

It would have been eas­ier for Mem­phis to keep Smith for a third sea­son. It would have pro­duced much less na­tional crit­i­cism.

Three sea­sons is con­sid­ered the ap­pro­pri­ate amount of time to give a col­lege coach to turn a pro­gram around. It’s the in­dus­try stan­dard. It’s po­lite. But fire a coach af­ter two years? That prac­ti­cally guar­an­tees bad press.

Sure enough, when Mem­phis fired Smith, ESPN’s Jay Bi­las tweeted, “Mem­phis should be em­bar­rassed.”

Mike DeCourcy of The Sport­ing News called the de­ci­sion “a colos­sal fail.”

In his piece, DeCourcy di­rected much of his crit­i­cism at the de­ci­sion to hire Smith in the first place.

That crit­i­cism was en­tirely ac­cu­rate. But it points to an­other rea­son it would have been eas­ier for Mem­phis to keep Smith an­other year. Fir­ing him af­ter two years was essen­tially ad­mit­ting — and draw­ing at­ten­tion to — a mas­sive mis­take.

Mem­phis made the change any­way. And that is to the credit of univer­sity Pres­i­dent David Rudd and ev­ery­one else in­volved. Be­cause an­other year wouldn’t have just been an­other year. It would have been a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing missed op­por­tu­nity.

An­other year would have cost Mem­phis Lo­max, Har­ris, Jones, Mau­rice and what has some­how turned into a top-30 recruiting class.

An­other year would have meant four years of Lo­max suit­ing up for Wi­chita State.

An­other year would have meant Mike Miller tak­ing an as­sis­tant’s job at Florida or TCU.

An­other year would have meant Mem­phis hav­ing no shot at Bryan An­toine, Scot­tie Lewis, Matthew Hurt or Tren­don Wat­ford, the four five-star re­cruits with close ties to Miller.

An­other year al­most cer­tainly would have cost Mem­phis the best lo­cal re­cruits — in­clud­ing James Wise­man, the No. 1 player in the coun­try — in 2019.

Har­d­away was able to per­suade Lo­max and Har­ris to join him at Mem­phis, even though he just got the gig. But he couldn’t have raced in and scooped up Wise­man at the last minute like that. Now Har­d­away and Miller have time to work on as­sem­bling a top-10 recruiting class in 2019. All be­cause Mem­phis made the change when it did.

This les­son ap­plies to more than bas­ket­ball, of course. It ap­plies to all of us. If we’re go­ing to make changes in our lives, might as well get started. No rea­son to put off the in­evitable.

It was in­evitable that Smith wasn’t go­ing to work out at Mem­phis. It was in­evitable that Mem­phis would have to pay him an em­bar­rass­ing amount of money to go away. But be­cause Rudd didn’t let that em­bar­rass­ment or po­ten­tial crit­i­cism stand in the way of mak­ing the change, the Mem­phis bas­ket­ball pro­gram has more mo­men­tum than it has had since the ear­li­est days of Josh Past­ner.

An­other year would have con­tin­ued the slide in sea­son tickets.

An­other year would have made it that much more dif­fi­cult to win back dis­af­fected fans.

An­other year would have ruined this recruiting class as well as the next one.

An­other year would have been no fun at all.

In­stead, we’re in the midst of a civic ma­nia. A civic ma­nia that is both over the top and in­dis­pens­able for a pro­gram that was in dan­ger of fad­ing into ir­rel­e­vance. All be­cause univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors had the nerve to make a hard de­ci­sion in­stead of putting it off for a sea­son.

Think they’re em­bar­rassed now?

Oak Ridge (Fla.) guard Ant­wann Jones (1) shoots the ball against the Roselle Catholic (N.J.) in Jan­uary at Spring­field, Mass. Four star re­cruit Jones has com­mit­ted to Mem­phis. GRE­GORY J. FISHER/USA TO­DAY

Colum­nist Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Mem­phis bas­ket­ball coach Penny Har­d­away quickly as­sem­bled a top-30 recruiting class. MARK WE­BER/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

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