MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Penny Hardaway is a name that will forever be connected with University of Memphis basketball.
The current head coach at East High School has been linked to the Tigers in past coaching searches, and his name has appeared once again despite the Tigers not even having an opening.
Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com reports that multiple sources have told him Memphis is considering firing Tubby Smith and adding Penny Hardaway as their new head coach.
Memphis, once a powerhouse for more than a decade under John Calipari and Josh Pastner, has lost some of its luster under Pastner and now Smith. They haven't made the tournament since 2014, and attendance at FedExForum has become abysmal.
Fair or not, Smith has taken much of the blame. He signed a five year, $15 million deal with Memphis in 2016 after Pastner fled for Georgia Tech and the team has sat in the middle of the American Athletic Conference since.
Parrish reports that Smith's buyout would cost $9.75 million, but with attendance at its lowest in nearly 50 years, the university may be willing to eat that cost to turn things around in other spots.
Attendance has dropped from an average of 16,000 just four years ago to 6,000 this season. Donations are down $1.1 million, and the school is likely to miss out on their usual $800,000 payment from the Grizzlies due to the low attendance at the Forum.
University President David Rudd said the basketball program will be evaluated at the conclusion of the season.
This evaluation would no doubt include an in-depth look at Smith's job--something he said he is used to.
For the Tigers, it may be now or never if they want their chance at landing Penny. The former UofM All-American has been linked to a number of college coaching jobs in the past, and considering the job he's done with East as one of the best teams in the country, it's likely that Memphis won't be the only school to come calling.
Even better for the team that picks Hardaway up? One name being floated to join his staff is Hall of Famer Larry Brown, a source told Parrish. Brown won a National Championship with Kansas and an NBA Championship with Detroit over his illustrious career. He was most recently the head coach at SMU, where he resigned in 2016 after three seasons of more than 25 wins with the Mustangs and one NCAA Tournament appearance.
But before all of this can be sorted out, the Tigers still have important games left to play. They're set to open their run in the AAC Tournament Thursday afternoon. The 5th-seeded Tigers will take on South Florida, the lowest seed in the tournament but a squad that just dismantled the Tigers by 24 points less than a week ago.