Attention, Miserables. The season of great feasting has begun.
"The Miserables," of course, was the name former University of Memphis Coach John Calipari gave to a contingent of Tiger fans that was seemingly never happy during his time here. They were always kvetching, always looking for gray clouds, no matter how well the team performed. Calipari always said they didn't know how good they had it. He was probably right.
Now the Calipari years are long gone, as the Tigers begin their seventh season under Josh Pastner, but the Miserables are back and calling for the coach's head. Pastner is on every major sports medium's "Hot seat" list. After the program lost a couple of key players via transfer last summer, Pastner tried to downplay expectations for this year's squad, forgoing the usual glitzy Midnight Madness with rappers and fireworks in favor of a family-friendly event in the daytime. It did not draw many folks, but the plan all along was to turn down the hype and outperform the lowered expectations. This year's bunch would have to rely on freshmen and transfers to carry much of the load.
In preseason, Pastner revved up one of his favorite themes: That the team — and indeed, all of us — need to have an "attitude of gratitude." Which, at its simplest level, is being grateful you're alive; being thankful you're playing (or watching) basketball. It could be a lot worse. You could be getting attacked by terrorists or dying of a wasting disease. It's just basketball. Let's enjoy the games. (This could also be called the "attitude of platitude," but I digress.) He also not-so-subtly called out a couple of members of the local sports media for their negative attitudes.
Let's be honest, being grateful for what you have and putting silly things like basketball games in perspective is a great way to live a happier life. It's a simple but wise message, one that I've heard from ministers and Boy Scout troop leaders and motivational speakers through the years. It's a great thought to take to heart during this Thanksgiving season. Be grateful for your blessings.
But it's not a message you'll hear from Nick Saban or Tom Izzo or Bobby Knight. They don't like perspective. They hate gratitude. Unless it's for beating the crap out of their last opponent. They realize that no one's grateful about anything in big-time college athletics except winning. Is that a sad indictment of our culture? No doubt. Is it what may get Pastner shown the door? Possibly.
Pastner has been an absolute model human being and a near-perfect representative for the University of Memphis. He's been generous with his time, kind to the infirm and dying, helpful with all kinds of good works and charities. There's no cussing, no drinking, no hanky-panky. He's a model father. His players graduate (at least, the ones who don't transfer), and they stay out of trouble. His teams win 20 games a year, contend for conference titles every other year or so, and often go to the NCAA tournament, though they don't tend to stick around long.
Is that enough for him to keep his job? I don't know. It would cost a fortune to buy out his contract. But if there are many more losses like the one this week to the UT-Arlington Mavericks, the university's gratitude for Pastner's attitude will be tested like never before.
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