For the second consecutive year, Memphis’ season has come to an end before the true start to March Madness. The Tigers made a surprise run to the American Athletic Conference Tournament finals before falling to UConn Sunday, but still found themselves left out of both the NCAA and NIT postseason tournaments.
Monday afternoon University of Memphis president David Rudd released a statement that said the men’s basketball program is under a “comprehensive evaluation” as the team shifts into the offseason. Coach Josh Pastner has been under heavy criticism throughout the last two seasons as the team’s on-court performance has taken a steep drop, but parting ways with the seven-year head coach is more complicated than wins and losses.
Due to his contract, the University owes Pastner $2.65 million in each of the next four years. The contract also lacks a buyout close, so the University will owe Pastner the entire amount of the contract if they decide to split ways with the head coach.
If $2.65 million a year sounds like a lot for a college basketball coach, that’s because it is. According to the latest available data released in March of 2015, Pastner’s yearly salary ranks ninth among 351 current Division 1 head coaches.
The eight coaches who make more per year are West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, UCLA’s Steve Alford, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
Pastner is paid like those eight elite coaches, but the results over the past two seasons have been quite different. Only four of those eight coaches have ever missed the postseason two seasons in a row, but the most recent time was more than two decades ago when Self’s Oral Roberts team failed to reach the NCAA or NIT tournaments in 1995 and 1996.
Additionally, of the four that have missed the tournament twice in a row before, only Duke’s Krzyzewski found later found success at the same school. The other three had to leave for other jobs before finding postseason success.
The defense for Pastner has long been that he’s been able to rack up impressive win totals, but after finishing 18-14 a season ago and 19-15 in the 2015-16 season his win percentage has taken a sizeable dip. For his career, Pastner holds a record of 167-73 for a win percentage of 69.6.
Of the eight coaches making more money than Pastner annually, only Steve Alford has a lower percentage, winning 66 percent of games in his career. It should also be noted that those eight coaches have coached at schools in Power Five, which play a tougher schedule than Pastner has in Conference USA and the American Athletic Conference.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s now safe to say that the University of Memphis got the wrong end of the deal in Pastner’s 2013 contract extension and pay raise. Even firing Pastner is deemed the right move for basketball reasons; the money may simply be too great of an obstacle.
At age 38, Pastner could certainly still have a highly successful career as a college basketball coach, but for him to recover at Memphis and earn his $2.65 million salary it would require him to do something that only Mike Krzyzewski, considered by many to be one of the greatest basketball coaches of all-time, has done.
The University of Memphis athletic department has a very difficult decision ahead of it, and considering the data, it’s a decision in which there could be no clear right answer.
University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner makes $2.65 million per year annually. Pastner became the coach of the Tigers following the 2008-09 season.