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Penny Hardaway Staying At Memphis, Out Of Running To Be Orlando Magic Head Coach

James Murphy
by in NBA on
  • Penny Hardaway has announced that he is no longer a candidate for the Orlando Magic head coaching job.
  • Hardaway will stay at the University of Memphis where he’s been the head coach for three seasons.
  • Orlando remains one of three NBA teams still looking for a head coach along with Washington and New Orleans.

On Monday, the sports media reported that the Orlando Magic had ‘elevated’ Penny Hardaway to lead candidate status for their vacant head coaching job. Today, he un-elevated himself putting Orlando back to where they started in their search for a new head coach.

Hardaway announced that he was no longer a candidate for the Magic job via a post on Instagram where he also indicated his intent to stay in his current job at the University of Memphis. He’s done a good job during his three year run at Memphis putting up a 63-32 record and led the Tigers to the NIT championship last season. Hardway is a Memphis native and played his college ball at the school. He was gracious in his rebuff of the Magic head coaching job:

“One day, in the future, I would love to coach in the NBA, and wouldn’t it be great if it were the Orlando Magic? But today isn’t that day.”

“Today I’m here with my players, with the fans, with the city, working as hard as I can to try and bring us a national championship, and that’s what I set out to do, and that’s what I want to do,” Hardaway said in the video. “So for all the fans that have rocked out with us, cheered with us, that are rocking with us, through wins and losses, cheering us on, fighting for us and staying loyal, thank you so much.”

“And I’m doing the same thing. I’m going to be here. I don’t want you guys to be afraid that I’m going anywhere.”

Good decision by Hardaway–he’s got a good thing going in Memphis and would be facing a serious rebuilding job in Orlando. Magic President Jeff Weltman isn’t someone that instills a lot of confidence either. When he announced that former head coach Steve Clifford would not return–he was essentially fired but Clifford spun the narrative that the team and coach parted ways via ‘mutual decision’–he stressed the importance of the next coach of the Magic having previous NBA coaching experience. That appeared to eliminate Hardaway from consideration despite the Magic fanbase displaying great enthusiasm for his hiring.

Somewhere along the way Weltman did a hard U-turn on the NBA experience criteria and provided this inscrutable rationale:

“It’s an important component, for sure, and if you are going to hire someone without that experience, there have to be other strengths that you’re saying, ‘Well, we’re trusting that this will develop because we’ve seen X, Y, Z’. As you lay it all out, not everybody is going to have everything.”

“So, it’s really, and I always come back to this, it’s the person, it’s the fit, it’s the connection and that’s largely what defines a good coach, the ability to connect with the players. For sure, it’s something we’ll be weighing and considering, but that’s not, by a longshot, to say that we won’t hire someone without that experience.”

Weltman is fond of inscrutable answers to simple questions as we pointed out at the time of Clifford’s departure. Weltman explained the problem as a ‘lack of alignment’:

“Obviously, we’ve repositioned our team. And so, there has to be alignment. There has to be alignment in everything you do in this league. And if there’s not alignment, it’ll undermine everything.”

When asked to further explain the decision to part ways with Clifford he started to yammer about ‘alignment’ again:

“The ‘why’ is quite simple here: alignment. And if Cliff is questioning whether the positioning of our team kind of aligns with his own career positioning, then he’s probably not the right guy at that point. I appreciate the fact that Cliff can look himself in the mirror and have those conversations with himself because I don’t think a whole lot of people can do that.”

The local media quipped that he can ‘now align the Orlando Magic how he wants’.

Now that Hardaway is staying at Memphis he’s reportedly going to make an interest hire for an assistant coach: Hall of Famer Larry Brown who has coached at UCLA and Kansas along with nine different NBA franchises. He’s the only coach in history to win both a NCAA championship and an NBA title. Hardaway has an assistant coaching vacancy to fill after Tony Madlock accepted the head coaching gig at South Carolina State. Brown is now 80 years old and hasn’t served as an assistant coach since 1967–or four years before Hardaway was born.

One odd subplot to the Penny Hardaway situation–he did go to the trouble to interview with the Magic. I don’t really have a problem with this in theory since there’s no harm in ‘taking a meeting’ and seeing what a prospective employer has to say. The timing, however, suggests that he was at least entertaining the idea but that the interview changed that into a ‘hard no’. Maybe Weltman didn’t think Hardaway was ‘properly aligned’.

So the Magic will go back to the drawing board. One name that won’t be under consideration is their former head coach Jacque Vaughn who announced earlier today that he’s staying in his role as an assistant with the Brooklyn Nets. Two names that have been mentioned for the job *do* have NBA head coaching experience: former Nets’ head coach Kenny Atkinson (currently an assistant with the LA Clippers) and recently deposed Portland head coach Terry Stotts. Of the two, Atkinson looks to be a more viable choice though it’s doubtful that the Magic will be able to do anything with him until the end of the Clippers’ season. Denver Nuggets’ assistant Wes Unseld, Jr. has also been linked to the Magic gig though I’m expecting Weltman to pivot back to the ‘NBA head coaching experience is essential’ narrative. Becky Hammon’s name is still getting kicked around along with current Milwaukee Bucks’ assistant Darvin Ham and Dallas assistant Jamahl Mosley.

Immediately after Orlando fired….er….mutually parted ways…with Steve Clifford BetOnline.ag released some ‘next coach of the Magic’ odds. At the time, Terry Stotts was the favorite at +400. I haven’t seen any updated odds but here’s the rundown of the betting board as it looked on June 6:


Terry Stotts                           +400
David Vanterpool                       +600
Jason Kidd                             +600
Becky Hammon                           +700
Chauncey Billups                       +700
Pat Delany                             +700
Adrian Griffin                         +900
Jerry Stackhouse                       +900
Kenny Atkinson                         +900
Penny Hardaway                         +1000

Several of these names are no longer in the running–Hardaway, Jason Kidd (took Dallas job) and Chauncey Billups (took Portland job). David Vanterpool was formerly an assistant in Minnesota and is very highly regarded. Not sure what his status is–he was considered a hot prospect for a number of vacancies several weeks ago but not much since then. Pat Delany was an assistant on Steve Clifford’s staff that remains under contract in Orlando. Adrian Griffin is an assistant with the Toronto Raptors–no word on his status relative to head coaching gigs either. Another Toronto assistant (Sergio Scariolo) just accepted a job with Italian powerhouse Virtus Bologna so that might give Griffin an opportunity to get a pay increase to stay in Canada. Jerry Stackhouse has coached in the NBA G-League and has been an assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s currently the head coach at Vanderbilt where things didn’t get off to a good start with a record of 11-20 last year but the problems existed long before he got there.

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