Tubby Smith fired by Memphis after 21-win season

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Tubby Smith is no longer the coach at Memphis after two seasons, including a 21-win campaign this year. Former Tigers standout Penny Hardaway has emerged as the front-runner to replace him, sources told ESPN.

"After considerable deliberations and in the best financial interest of the University of Memphis, an agreement of separation with Head Men's Basketball Coach Tubby Smith has been reached," the school said in a statement. "Details are to be finalized, and no further comment will be offered."

Smith, 66, was on his way out of his office earlier Wednesday when he told reporters he was no longer the coach.

"I appreciate the opportunity to have led the University of Memphis basketball program for the last two years," Smith said in a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday night. "I'm proud of the work my staff and I have done to serve the players, the school and the community in leading us to a 21-13 season this year. 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. 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 replaced Josh Pastner in 2016 after three seasons at Texas Tech but never seemed to fit with the Tigers. He struggled on the recruiting trail and failed to reach the postseason in either season in Memphis.

Memphis finished 19-13 (9-9 in the American Athletic Conference) in Smith's first season, then went 21-13 (10-8) this season.

Smith has been a Division I head coach since 1991, making 18 NCAA tournament appearances -- including 14 straight from 1994 to 2007. He won a national championship with Kentucky in 1998. He also spent time with Tulsa, Georgia, Minnesota and Texas Tech.

Smith's firing comes after more than a week of speculation that Memphis might fire him and hire Hardaway. Last week, Smith's attorney, Ricky Lefft, defended the job Smith has done at Memphis, saying Smith deserved an "A" for his performance this season. After Memphis beat USF in the American tournament opening round Thursday, Smith said he felt "pretty comfortable, pretty confident about what we've done this year and how we're growing the program."

Memphis made it to the American tournament semifinals despite losing leading scorer Jeremiah Martin to a broken foot in February. The Tigers won seven of their final nine games.

Hardaway is the coach of the Memphis East High School team, which is playing in the state tournament. If it wins two more games, it would make the finals on Saturday, and sources told ESPN that Memphis will not make a decision before that time.

Smith was asked whether he thought he coached his last game with the Tigers after a 70-60 loss to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals Saturday.

"Who knows?" Smith said.

Information from ESPN's Andrea Adelson was used in this report.