MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tubby Smith has been fired as Memphis men’s basketball coach after two seasons amid dropping attendance and donations to the athletic department.
Smith told reporters he was no longer coach as he left a meeting Wednesday with Memphis President M. David Rudd and athletic director Tom Bowen.
Memphis issued a statement saying only that an agreement of “separation” had been reached in the “best financial interest” of the university with details still to be finalized. Smith said via Twitter that “I appreciate the opportunity to to have led the University of Memphis basketball program for the last two years” and that he’s proud of the work he and his staff did.
“After 39 years in college coaching, I know that change happens and I wish the University and the team the best as they pursue a different direction,” Smith tweeted. “As a lifelong competitor I believe the game never ends, and I’ll be exploring my next move on and off the court in the coming weeks.”
Smith went 40-26 at Memphis, including 21-13 this season. The Tigers won seven of their final nine games before losing Saturday 70-60 to No. 8 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals, their third loss to the AAC champs this season.
He came to Memphis in April 2016 as one of only two coaches to lead five different schools to the NCAA Tournament. Now 66, Smith leaves without taking Memphis to any postseason tournament in his two seasons. Smith is 597-302 with a national title with Kentucky in 1998. He also has worked at Tulsa, Georgia and Minnesota during a head coaching career that began in 1991.
When Josh Pastner left for Georgia Tech, Memphis hired Smith away from Texas Tech in April 2016 with hopes of switching to the Big 12 and gave him a five-year contract for $15.45 million that paid him $2.9 million for this season with $3.25 million due each of the next three seasons.
His son, Saul, had been one of three assistant coaches on staff at Memphis.
Smith went 19-13 in his first season and followed that with a major roster turnover bringing in 11 new players.
Attendance dropped to 6,225 this season, Memphis’ lowest attendance since 1969-70 and putting the university at risk of missing out on a $800,000 payment from the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies who control the FedExForum. The Commercial Appeal also reported donations to the athletic department dropped $1.1 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
That combination hurts Memphis, which failed in its 2016 bid to join the Big 12.
Memphis’ biggest win this season came Feb. 22 with a 91-85 upset of No. 23 Houston , only the second such win by the Tigers under Smith. The Tigers finished the season with an RPI of 106 and a strength of schedule of 112 a decade after losing in overtime of the national championship under then-coach John Calipari.
Penny Hardaway is a top candidate to replace Smith.
A Memphis native, Hardaway played at then-Memphis State between 1991 and 1993 under coach Larry Finch before leaving for the NBA. Hardaway currently coaches an AAU team and also coaches Memphis East High School, which will be playing for a third straight Tennessee Class AAA title this week. Forward James Wiseman, the No. 2 prospect in 2019 nationally, plays for Hardaway on both teams.
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(AP Photo/Brandon Dill, File & AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)