Considering the freshman-packed roster that helped his University of Memphis Tigers reach the 2011 NCAA tournament, it may not be a leap for local basketball fans to learn Josh Pastner takes parenting quite seriously. Many of the fundamental tools Pastner has utilized in leading the Tiger program for two years can be found at the Pastner home, where Josh and his wife Kerri are raising two children, Ethan (age 12, from a previous relationship of Kerri’s) and Payten, their daughter who celebrated her first birthday late May. “All kids want structure and discipline,” stresses Pastner, tapping the desk in front of him with a fist, but with a smile on his face. “[As a parent,] you understand the true value of being a role model. No matter what their age, kids look at the way you act, what you say, what you do.”
Many parents live by the credo, “Leave your work at the office.” But the life of a coach requires traveling, scouting video, and practice, practice, practice. When does work actually end and parenting begin.
“It’s 24 hours,” says Pastner. “You’ve got to do the best you can to find the time to spend with your family. Easier said than done, but you’ve got to have separation. You have to be in a constant state of awareness. There are no vacation days, no time off.”
The importance of partnership.
Pastner is not just a coach, of course. He’s the head coach of the longest-running, most successful sports program in the city of Memphis. Which only compounds the challenge of allocating time for his children. “Because of the intensity, scrutiny, and public nature of the job, you really don’t have a time when you’re off,” he says. “In college, you’re responsible for your student-athletes. Responsible for the NCAA rules, the law, academics, recruiting, winning games. If any one of those things don’t go well, it falls on the head coach.”
Coaching can be one of the loneliest jobs on the planet, particularly when a team struggles. Pastner has come to relish having Kerri as a parenting partner, certainly the finest “assistant coach” he’ll ever know. “I look at the student-athletes I coach as part of our family,” says Pastner. “Kerri understands; she agrees. We dated about five years before getting married [in 2009]. And I told her — ahead of time — the lifestyle my job would require. She’s a tremendous mom, and it gives me great comfort for the times I’m not there.”
Leading by example.
The example Pastner aims to set as a dad is not too far removed from the one he’s established — quite publicly — as the Tigers’ coach. Behind the image, though, is a firmness his players have discovered. (Just ask Wesley Witherspoon, the Tiger star suspended last season for behavior issues.) “I believe everything’s positive,” Pastner says. “But I don’t like to enable. I’m not Ethan’s biological father, but I am the male figure in his life now, so I have to discipline him, to hold him accountable. I’m probably hard on him, and I recognize that. I can see myself babying Payten a little. Maybe it’s a male-female thing.”
Pastner has found an element to parenting in the way he recruits players for the Tiger program. Basketball skills are important, of course, but they are merely the method of entry in a program the coach hopes serves a larger purpose. “When we sign a young man,” Pastner explains, “I tell the parent or guardian, ‘This is the next step for them to become a man.’ They’ve got to know how to be a good husband, a good father, a good, productive member of society. They have a four- or five-year window before they’re out from under the umbrella. It’s learning time management, and being responsible for all their actions.”
There is a line Pastner draws, though, between the parenting he does at home and any perceived fatherly touch he provides his players. “I don’t feel I’m at the age  where I can say I’m a father figure,” he notes. “I’m a leader; I want to be a life-changer, a person who can help them in life. Maybe 10 years from now, I’ll be a father figure.”
A positive, powerful difference.
The mysteries of parenting — and the mysteries of coaching, for that matter — haven’t been solved, and won’t be solved, by Josh Pastner. He stays focused, though, on the processes and decision-making that steer his children (and players) toward the right path. “I’m going to make mistakes in both directions,” he says, “but they’re going to be made knowing I’m making the best decision for [my children].
“I’m constantly educating. About NCAA rules. About the law. About how to treat women right. These are responsibilities. I’m dealing with 15 males, and it’s important for them to learn. When you have a position that’s public, it’s extra important that they get the importance of being a good role model. You have an opportunity to make a positive and powerful difference.”
Pastner’s experience with his young daughter has provided something he may not have anticipated the day he took the Tiger job: empathy. “I have two players who have daughters,” he says. “So now, I have a little different feel for that. Maybe a little more sensitive. I moved practice so one of my players could be at the ultrasound for his baby.”
Pastner smiles when asked if his celebrity has impacted 12-year-old Ethan, if his son ever has difficulty distinguishing between Dad and Coach. “Ethan loves coming to Tiger games,” he says. “But he has no aspirations of playing in the NBA. His love isn’t playing the game of basketball. So there’s some separation.”
Wherever his coaching career takes him, the Tiger coach will play the role of father with the same positive energy he’s injected into the U of M basketball program. It seems natural. After all, Pastner is an anagram for parents.