Behind the Headlines – November 9, 2018

– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – What Penny Hardaway
means to Memphis, tonight, on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, President and Executive
Editor of The Daily Memphian, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by
Don Wade, sports reporter with The Daily Memphian,
Geoff Calkins, sports columnist for The Daily Memphian,
along with Dave Woloshin, Voice of the Tigers for some
thirty-something years now. So thank you all
for being here. We don’t do… I’m trying to think, in nine
years how many sports shows we’ve done, and it’s very few. – Not enough.
– Not enough, clearly– [laughter]
– for any of you. We’ve done them periodically. Don’s been on before, but I
wanted to do a whole show talking about
Penny, not so much, and we can get
into the X’s and O’s, and the sort of offense
and defense they’re running, but more, there’s something
happening in Memphis associated with Penny’s arrival as coach. And for each of you,
what do you think, again, almost a little
bit beyond the sports, what that means to the
city, what it means right now. I’ll start with you Geoff. – Well to me there’s certain
institutions in this city that have meant something for a
long period of time to a lot of people, and that’s,
whether it’s FedEx, or it’s the
University of Memphis, or whether it’s St.
Jude, or whatever it is, I think one of those
institutions is Memphis basketball that has meant a lot
to a lot of people for a long period of time.
And for the longest time it felt like it was
almost going away. The last few years
have been moribound, and you wondered if this
institution that had bound people together for so long
had become something that was really just going
to be a memory. And so to me what Penny means,
or the arrival of Penny means, it means the restoration, or
possible restoration of that institution that people love. And in the end, I
think it means hope. I think that’s probably
what it boils down to, it means hope that
Tiger basketball and everything that’s wrapped up
in that phrase will mean something again. – And Don Wade, for you,
what do you think it means, or why do you think
there’s this excitement, it’s about sports, but to
some degree transcends that. – Well, it’s interesting, after
Penny was hired I did a couple of radio shows other
places in the country. And they were trying to wrap
their head around why Memphis was so excited about
Penny Hardaway coming back, especially since you had
national basketball writers predicting that he
was going to fall flat, right? Because other former players
had gone back to their alma mater and fallen flat. And the way I tried
to explain it to them, is that it’s simply
more personal with Memphis basketball, that while the
Grizzlies great playoff run galvanized the city
in a really big way, and you saw
people come together, it still wasn’t as
personal because the Grizzlies, you know, haven’t
been here that long, and this is a
generational thing. So that means when you
do something like this, it echoes. – Yeah, and Dave,
Voice of the Tigers, back we were
talking before the show, 33 years including
television, for you, compare them,
you’ve been through, again, 33 years of covering the
Tigers from real boom times, to the bad times that
Geoff talked about, what do you feel right
now, what are you hearing? – Yeah, well a
combination of both, I mean, there is definitely
hope and the end of the Tubby Smith era was hopeless,
’cause no one was coming, even though the team
was really not terrible, no one was coming, and
that was depressing. And then galvanizing,
let’s just go back to the real galvanizer of this city,
and that was Larry Finch. After the assassination
of Martin Luther King, it took Larry, who by the way
was the second player to become a coach, it took Larry to
get all sides together, and I think Penny is
that kind of a guy as well, which is an unlikely
story, because people forget… Penny was not eligible
to play his first year, and he was hurt. He was on a corner, and
there was some sort of illegal something going on, and a stray
bullet hit Penny in the foot. He couldn’t play. – And this was early ’90s?
Am I wrong? – This is early ’90s, and Penny
had to sit out and Penny would have had to sit out
academically anyway, and a great story is that
Penny got his act together academically and
became a good student. And now you have this guy
who doesn’t need to do this, but feels the
calling to do this, and is bringing
people together. Think about this,
18,000 at Memphis Madness? We had 2,000 at some
conference games last year. I mean that’s amazing. He brings people together. – Memphis Madness
being the midnight, I mean, again for people who
aren’t necessarily sports fans, Memphis Madness, they even
suspended for a couple years? Am I right about that?
– Yeah, yeah. – Memphis Madness is the
first essential practice, the first time
you can practice, and you can have a
big celebration, it’s really a glorified
practice that people are invited to, and yeah, it
used to be a big deal, and then people stopped
coming, and so it went away. I was talking to the folks
who run the Tiger bookstore, they sell
merchandise at FedEx Forum, and they said… so so far there has
been Memphis Madness, which is a glorified
practice, two exhibition games, and one real game. And they have already sold more
merchandise this year in those few games–
– (Dave) Wow. – than they sold all
last year, all together. But there are a million
different ways you can sort of tabulate the impact of Penny. Most of it’s just
emotional, honestly. There is a certain giddyness about that I think
is hard to miss. – But there’s a financial
component that’s real, that Dr. Rudd, the University
President was very open about on the day Penny was introduced
at the new practice facility, and that was basically that it
was going to be more expensive to keep Tubby Smith, than
to pay him off to go away. Especially when you have the
chance to hire Penny Hardaway, which you could not
let that pass by. – And Penny coached,
for those who don’t know, actually let’s do a
little bit of background. Again, and you
started on some of it. Penny went to
high school where? – (Dave)
Treadwell. – Treadwell. Memphis kid, comes in, sits out
a year for the reasons you just described, plays how
many years at U of M? – Two.
– Mm-hmm. – And then is
drafted and goes to… who was his
first team, Orlando? – He goes to Orlando,
but actually was drafted by Golden State, and then there was
a swap with Chris Weber, and he ends up in Orlando
playing with Shaq of all people, who he had also
gotten to know in a movie, called “Blue Chips”
prior to that, so they had a relationship. And they were really
good right off the bat. – And how long
was his pro career, give or take? – Well the amazing thing is, is
that I think his pro career was 18 years, I mean he
played a long time in the NBA, but it was not what it
was supposed to have been. When he came into the league,
he was an incandescent player. He was destined to
be a Hall-of-Famer, one of the great
players of all time. He got injured, knee injuries,
and so then he stayed, and he had a long career, but
I maintain that had he had the career that he was
on track to have, he probably would not be
doing what he is today, and that is true,
A- because he would be Jordan-esque in his profile. He just wouldn’t need it, but
B- I think it left a lingering sense of unfinished business. That this is not the pro career
that I was supposed to have, and I’m going to go
prove myself in another way. I think it’s part of
what drives him now. So he had a long career, but it
was not the career that he was supposed to have had. – He famously had,
was it the Nike ad? With the bobble head that
was the mini-Penny thing? Wasn’t that?
– Little Penny. – Little Penny, that’s right. – That was done by a
comedian, Chris Rock, and that became famous. I, you make a good point about
wanting to fulfill something. But I’ve got the feeling,
Penny doesn’t need this anyway. – (Geoff)
No. – Penny is still, I think his
shoe is second or third biggest selling shoe by Nike. He still gets a whole
lot of money from Nike, so this isn’t about
money, this is about, ‘I’ve played enough golf,
and I still love this game’, and there’s this relationship
with his former friend, that was the high school
coach at East that got ill, and he sort of
fell into this thing, and this was a dream that
guy had for both of them, and now he’s
fulfilling that dream too, I think that’s a really
interesting component, this love for
this guy that has, and a love for a city
that has brought these two tangents together. – And he was coaching at
East High School for how long? – Yeah, so what happened was is
that he comes back to Memphis, which is
interesting in and of itself. Like, he had played most, he
played in Orlando for a long time, he likes to golf, he
could have lived in Orlando. He played in Phoenix, he
could have lived in Phoenix. Like he had enough money
he could live anywhere, it’s interesting how many
Memphis players move back to Memphis, it’s sort of
interesting in and of itself. He’s back here,
he’s playing golf, he’s hanging out,
he’s doing whatever. And he has this friend,
Desmond Merriweather, who’s coaching a
middle school team. And says, “Penny, why don’t you
drop by and help me teach them how to break a
zone”, or something. And he stops by,
and he starts coaching that middle school team. There’s a kid named Alex
Lomax who’s on that team, little kid–
[Dave chuckles] – And he ends up coaching
that middle school team, and then he ends up
coaching an AAU team, which is sort of
an amateur team, starting his own, honestly,
because those kids didn’t have a place to play in the summer,
so he started a summer league team for them,
and then he ends up coaching at East High School. And then after winning multiple
championships at East High School, with Alex Lomax as
one of his best players, he then takes the Memphis job,
so it’s funny– – (Eric)
State championships? – Yeah, state championships. It’s funny because a lot of
people talk about this iconic figure who sort
of inherited this, he worked his way up in the
most sort of grinding way possible, if he
weren’t Penny Hardaway, the icon, you would think of
him as someone who paid his dues from literally the lowest,
middle school basketball, to get to where he is. – And also, you talk
about the money he made, and he could have
made a lot of choices, a lot of professional athletes
make a lot of money and spend all of it. I mean the stories of
professional athletes– – (Dave)
Penny’s not one of those. – [group laughing]
And no, everyone says, if I had that kind of money
I wouldn’t have blown it, but the stories are many of
people who have blown that, and so it is that much more
that he was putting in the time, I think, for
people who are sports fans, and respect him, that he
was coaching a middle school, he was doing AAU and so on. – You know, maybe it’s
those kids from Treadwell, we oughta give, I believe
the coach was Garner Curry, and I forget who
the principal was, but you take guys, Hank
McDowel played there, and he’s given a whole
lot back to the community, now you take Elliott
Perry, Elliott Perry, I mean he’s
doing so much still, and he by the way
kept all his money, and now you’ve got a
guy named Chris Garner, I think he did well, and a
lot of guys from Treadwell, from that generation
have done very well. – AAU, you
mentioned AAU basketball. For people outside,
who don’t listen, I know most everyone listens to
your guys’s radio shows every day, but some people don’t. What is AAU, Don you
want to take this? What is AAU, and it’s a strange
thing for people, it’s more than you know, a lot of parents will
have their kids in– – Competitive
baseball, soccer… – competitive
baseball, competitive soccer, AAU basketball is
that times ten. A hundred.
Something. – Right, and in a lot of
cases, the best players, they don’t have their
whole family going with them, like you see with
competitive baseball or soccer. Which opens up opportunities,
if you want to call it that for people around those
players who can see, ok, this guy is a
definite major D-1 player, this guy is going
to be in the NBA, probably a
lottery pick some day, so you get a lot of other
things that are going on in AAU, and it can be difficult
to navigate that as a coach, as a parent, even as a player,
but you have to have those connections at some level if
you are going to be competitive to get good players. And quite frankly, I
think Tubby Smith, I don’t know if he’d
always been this way, but I think he had kind of
reached a point where he really didn’t want to deal with that. – (Eric)
Tubby Smith the former… – The former Tiger Coach, where
he really didn’t want to deal with that very much,
because when he started in this business you didn’t have to
deal with it at the same level you do now. – Well at some point in time
from my generation to theirs– – (Geoff)
I’m your same generation. – You’re close.
[Eric chuckles] – Why did you say that?
We’re all the same, we’re pretty much
the same generation. – You didn’t
have to admit that. – Based on hair color,
we’re all about the same age. – The power of guiding young
athletes went from high school coaches to AAU coaches. The more competitive players,
the more competitive leagues, the quicker way to get a
scholarship became your path was to play AAU ball, because
you were getting a region instead of just your
neighborhoods against each other. And so those coaches ended up,
from AAU with more influence. Tubby came from a generation in
the past where you went to an educator, a high school
coach to find your talent. And that I think,
he perceived, to be a little bit more above board. – AAU is also less
regulated, right, am I right in saying that? Or is, who is the
governing body because, no? – There are still regulations,
and then the NCAA has regulations about what you
can do with respect to AAU. To me one of the interesting
things about all of this is, is that the timing of Penny’s
hire is really interesting. He probably would
have wanted the job when Josh Pastner was hired. He certainly would have wanted
the job when Tubby was hired. And Memphis didn’t really take
him seriously as a candidate at that point. Right now when we look back
it almost feels like there’s a sense of inevitability
that Penny became the coach, but it’s actually an incredibly
unlikely story that he became the coach. And one of the things that was
good is because the university didn’t hire him the
last two times around, he was able to have deeper
roots and deeper connections to the high school kids,
including Alex Lomax, who I mentioned. Including James Wiseman who’s
the best player in the country right now, he plays
at East High School. And so by the time Penny did… Tubby Smith flopped, and then
by the time Penny inherits the job, he has in addition
to his iconic stature, in addition to more experience,
he has these deep connections now, to these players, all
of whom basically have said, “I’m going to
come play with him.” James Wiseman, the best
player in the country, everyone knew was headed
to Kentucky to play for John Calipari and the evil
empire, and here Penny says, most people at this point I
think expect James Wiseman to come and play at the
University of Memphis, we’ll see. But it’s those roots as a
AAU Coach that I think partly separate him from all the other
NBA players who’ve tried to be college coaches. He is, yes, he’s an
iconic NBA figure, but he also has these deep
roots in grassroots basketball. – Well, and then to your point,
life is all about timing, right, so things
have to happen. Tubby has to come in because
Penny’s not ready because Penny hasn’t really won yet, except
maybe at the middle school level, but he’s going to go
on to win a couple of state tournaments to prove that he’s
got the metal to be a coach, Tubby has to sort of fail,
and people have to sort of turn their back on Tubby, and
all these things conspire, and voila, here comes
Penny at the right time. – Well and the other thing is
that this is the way hiring gets done in the college
and professional ranks all the time. You have one type of coach,
Josh Pastner was quote unquote a ‘recruiter’, a
poor X’s and O’s guy. When that doesn’t go well, you
flip and you go to the good X’s and O’s guy, the
experienced guy Tubby, but not much of a recruiter. He fails you go
back the other way. It just, it happens–
– Well you hope you get the right combination of both. – You’re right, you’re
always hoping to get it all, but you rarely do. – Well, the recruitment
of Memphis basketball, there’s a bunch of
questions about this, so I’ll ask a
really dumb, simple one. Why does Memphis
have so many great high school basketball players? – I think there’s
a couple reasons– – Is that even true,
or is that just Memphis pride? – No, I think per capita
Memphis has very good basketball. – (Dave)
Above the average, for sure. – Per capita. I mean partly
because it’s a city sport. Fundamentally. I mean,
rural Indiana plays it too, and whatever, but it’s
fundamentally all you need is a ball and a rim and
some cement, right? And so it’s a city
sport, it’s a cheap sport, it’s accessible. And so I think
that’s one reason, and then secondly
there’s the tradition of it, I mean… right now you have players who
grew up in Memphis idolizing other players who
came before them. And so I think a lot of it is
the handing down of tradition, and a lot of it is the
opportunity, it’s harder to play, it’s harder to get a
baseball game going– – (Eric)
You need all that space. – Yeah you need all the
space, you need organizations, you need equipment, you
need everything else, whereas basketball–
– (Eric) You need more people. – all you need is
a rim and a ball. – You don’t even need a rim
because you go to a park. All you need are
sneakers and a ball. And as he says, you go back
to the ’50s in this town, and there’s always been a
great basketball college team. Starting with the Wilfong’s and
all the way through to Larry and Penny and Elliot
and all those guys. So there’s always
been, Keith Lee, so there’s always been a
terrific standard with which people, kids, would
look up to and go, “Hey, I want to do that.” – Nine minutes left
here, so with that, I want to go back to something
you talked a little about Don, which is that the
business side of this, and you all mentioned
attendance getting down to a couple thousand, reported to be
maybe four or five thousand but people would sort of count on
their hands that it was about two thousand. The first game,
this is airing Friday, so the first game
was a few days ago, how many people were
there, and what does that mean, the economics of
that for the U of M? – Well first of all, I go back
to season tickets had dropped to like 4100 in
Tubby’s last year, now I believe it’s
tripled, I think that’s right. – (Dave)
I think that’s right. – Yeah, they’ve
already tripled it. Now the way they’re counting
attendance is actually changed. – (Eric)
For people out there who are going how do you change
the count of people, yeah, how can
that possibly change. – It’s kind of a shell game. What they were
doing previously, they were scanning the tickets
actually used at FedEx Forum, so you were getting
pretty close to a true count. But that’s not the way
most college programs do it. They include season ticket
sales whether those people show up or not, you
have student tickets, they’re also including anybody
who’s credentialed whether it’s us, or staff from
the university. – And this is all brand new.
This method. – Yeah it just started
with the first game, so they announced
just over 15,000. And, no, there
weren’t 15,000 there, but it was a whole, it was
double what you were routinely getting last year. – There were at least three
times as many people there, it was hugely different,
you can’t possibly miss it, it’s immensely different. It’s, and part of this, the
economics of basketball in some ways are obscene. Tubby Smith was
paid, let’s be clear, $10 million to go away. $10 million dollars
at a public university– – (Eric)
Walk through this, yes. – $3 million a year basically,
and then he had a little bit left over from the year
in which he was fired. So they literally decided
you’re going to have to get paid–
– We’re going to pay out your contract–
– We’re going to give you $10 million–
– It’s a guaranteed contract– It wasn’t a lump
sum, they actually, what happened is, the
way his contract is, it’s paid out, there
were three years left, it’s paid out over six years,
so a million and a half a year for the next six years. Here’s the
amazing thing though. Penny, this may not
seem like generosity, Penny took a salary of
$1.5 million a year. A 3 year contract. Which is shorter
than most contracts, certainly than Tubby’s,
which I think was five years. And then, and it was for
almost exactly the amount, so in other words, they’re
still paying $3 million a year, a million and a half to Tubby,
and a million and a half that goes to Penny. And they’re really not costing
themselves that much more. – Because of the increase of
sales and tickets and so on. – Then the other way
that this plays out, and this gets
very complicated is, they’re not the main
tenants at FedEx Forum, the Grizzlies are. So what happens is though
that the Grizzlies get all the concession money, et cetera. And what they do is they pay
the Tigers a lump sum depending on attendance. If attendance is
a certain amount, they get up to
$800,000 in extra money. They didn’t get a penny of that
last year because attendance was so low. And so that’s a real
scanned attendance. And so in addition to all the
extra tickets you’re selling, to the donations that you have
to spend in order to buy the tickets, which is how
college basketball works, and then you’re getting
this money from the Grizzlies, it’s an easy financial
windfall to do this. Go ahead. – If we can just do
the math very simply– – (Eric)
Yeah, please. – And he nailed
it, it’s $3 million, so they’re still
paying that out, but they didn’t
lose anything on that, and if I recall, and Don you
were at that press conference, I think you were there Geoff,
but I remember Don being there. Dr. Rudd, when he
introduced Penny, he basically came clean and
said had I not made a change and gone through the
contract with Tubby, with the way that the
season tickets had diminished, the way the
giving had diminished, and still having to pay
him $3 million a year, it would have been a
financial loss of $25 million, I believe that is what he said. $25 million. He really in
essence had no choice. – Well and to bring this back
to kind of where this whole conversation started
about the emotion of it, and the passion of it, you can
survive having your fans angry for awhile. The problem is anger inevitably
turns into apathy and apathy is extremely expensive. Apathy is expressed in
donations you don’t receive, and seats that remain empty,
and that’s what was going to kill them, was
where the apathy was. – Who, dumb question
number seven from Eric, who pays for Tubby? Who pays for… I mean are those
boosters paying that, is that coming
out of the tuition, is that coming
out of the tickets, I mean where? – That comes from
the athletic director, the athletic funds, which
are a combination of tickets, donations, revenue that you
get from your conference, it’s just all lumped in, and
then Tom Bowen has a budget with which he has
to divy it out. – (Eric)
The Athletic Director. – Yeah, but
there’s no question, if you’re going to
fire a coach for example, to hire another coach, you
go to your boosters and say, can you give enough money to
help us be able to do this. Or if you want to give
raises to assistant coaches, you might say, “Hey we
gotta do this to keep”, it’s the same thing. – For people,
again, not familiar, a booster is not just
a fan, or a really, really, really,
really big fan, they’re– – What we really tend to, a
booster is people who give money–
– Big money. – Typically boosters are– – (Dave)
They have influence. – They are people who give
big money to the program, exactly. – When we talked
about salaries, and again, we talked about
Penny taking what is in that world, a
relatively small and short, small amount for a
short period of time. Somebody like John Calipari,
you mentioned the evil empire, makes what? – (Geoff)
Does he make $8 or $10 million? – I think it’s
seven, but it’s up there. – It’s almost an
unlimited contract, or it’s a five,
ten year contract? – He was making five
when he was here, he had gone as you
said to the boosters, who in my opinion are
fans who are invested, and they had enough, he would
have gotten the same money here that he got at
Kentucky originally. It was just a matter of
him wanting to move on. But yeah, it’s very expensive
to be a top flight program. – Yeah you get, the
best coaches get $7, $8 million a year, Tubby was
getting $3 million a year, so for Penny to take a million
and a half is quite a discount over what you
would typically pay. – With all that, and I said we
wouldn’t do too many X’s and O’s, we’ll kind of end here
with a couple minutes left… how are they going to do? Are they going to
win a Final Four, are they gonna lead the nation,
I mean how are they actually going to do, wins and losses? – In the end, we don’t know
how this is going to end, with Larry Finch it
ended badly in the end, right, but it
wasn’t a bad trip. Most end badly, that’s what
happens with most coaches, they get fired. What happens this year to me
is much less important than who they recruit. If they have a
pretty good year, which is what they should have,
they’re not going to win the NCAA tournament, they probably
won’t make the NCAA tournament. But if they have a competitive
year and they get the number one player in the country, and
they have a top-5 recruiting class, that will create hope
and momentum for future years. And the hope is
that ultimately, whether it’s a year or two
or three years from now, they’ll get back to Final Fours
and they’ll get back to the same sort of runs that
you saw under Gene Bartow, under Larry Finch, or
under John Calipari. – Any coach gets a
honeymoon period, your honeymoon period is longer
when you’re the favorite son, and that’s who
Penny Hardaway is, and expectations
mean everything, once upon a time it was
exciting to go to the NCAA tournamnet, then they got
tired of short trips under Josh Pastner, that
wasn’t good enough, now people would be thrilled if
they could win the conference tournament, which will be at
FedEx Forum at the end of the regular season, get
that automatic bid, get to the NCAA tournament,
don’t even have to win a game, just get there,
people would be thrilled. – Your sense of? – Well I’m going to
go philosophical here, I’ll say that life is not a
destination it’s a journey, and you go back to Larry Finch,
that was a great journey. The destination at the end
wasn’t as nice as we all would have hoped. We don’t know what Penny’s
destination is going to be, but this journey has
begun beautifully already. There is already
hope, and as Don says, the tournament is here. I don’t know that you’re going
to make an NCAA tournament with this group, but I think they
can make some post-season, and people are hungry for that. But the place is packed again,
and the good feeling this guy brings, I saw him at the Lady
Tiger game the other night. I mean he wants to give back,
and people just feel good about him and the
school because of him. – Talk about, is
it DJ Jeffries? – DJ Jeffries is one them, yes. – Talk about
that with :30 here. – DJ Jeffries is a
player who just committed, he had actually
committed to Kentucky, and he
de-committed from Kentucky, meaning he told
Kentucky I was going to go, then he later
changed his mind and said, as soon as Penny
was hired basically, he said I’m not
going to Kentucky. And then he recently said
he was going to Memphis. He just scored 51
points in a play-off game, so he’s one of the players–
– And he plays where again? – In Olive Branch. Yeah, he’s one of the
players who’s in Mississippi. So he’s coming to Memphis, and
he’s part of the hope for the future that this program has. – And you’re being nice,
because in your column you actually talked about it
being the double whammy, that he not only committed
but that he left Kentucky. – Oh, no, no, people
love, it may be petty, but there’s no question that
people– – That’s because
Geoff hates John. – It’s also fun, no
it’s fun, it’s fun. – Alright, we are out of time,
thank you all for being here, thank you for joining us,
join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]