With the dust settled after a multi-week coaching search, a few members of our staff are going to spend the next few days providing their takes on how everything went down and how AD Mike Bobinski ultimately did with the hiring of Josh Pastner.
Josh Pastner got his first head coaching job at the AAU level at age 16. (Yes, that's right, age 16.) While he was an AAU coach, he helped coach players like Emeka Okafor, TJ Ford, and Daniel "Boobie" Gibson. He walked on at Arizona and ended up graduating in just two and a half years. He was immediately hired by Lute Olson at Arizona as an assistant coach. Throughout his career, he has consistently climbed the coaching ladder quickly while gaining a great reputation for himself.
He was hired by Memphis to hopefully continue John Calipari's successful tenure despite the fact that he was just 31. After 5 seasons with the Tigers, it looked like Pastner was going to be at Memphis for quite a while. He had been recruiting fantastic talent to Memphis and he kept the Tigers strong enough to be a shoe-in for an invitation to the AAC. There were some concerns surrounding the program though. His teams always seemed better on paper than they ended up being on the court. In the four seasons from 2010-11 to 2013-14, his team made the NCAA tournament every single season, but never made it past the second round. The team came into the season ranked every one of those seasons, but only ended up ranked at the end of the season once. The move into the AAC brought up a lot of concerns around how Pastner's teams would deal with an increase in competition. In their first season in their new conference, they ended up in the second round of the NCAA tournament and 3rd in the AAC, looking prepared to be one of the strongest teams in a decent basketball conference. Instead, the last two years have been disasters. Two years ago, the Tigers went just 10-8 and finished 5th in the conference. (Not awful, but not where a team as talented as the Tigers should be.) Then this last season, the Tigers went 8-10 and finished 7th in the AAC. Memphis fans were fed up with the underachieving.
That is where Georgia Tech comes in. Once again, the Yellow Jackets have hired a coach whose previous team's fans were happy to be rid of. Fortunately, I am more optimistic about Josh Pastner than I ever was about Brian Gregory. Gregory was unable to recruit and maintain the talent necessary to win in the ACC -- something that should not be a problem with Pastner. This team should get back to the days when they have the talent to succeed. Despite a relatively unsuccessful tenure at Memphis, I do have some reasons to believe that Pastner can turn it around at Georgia Tech. He has been wildly successful at a young age at coaching basketball. He is still quite young for a basketball coach, and one failed tenure (that still involved more tournament appearances than Tech has seen in the past 10 years) should not constitute giving up on him. I believe that with his success in the past, that he will be able to learn and improve from his time at Memphis. While he could learn and improve while at Memphis, sometimes starting over makes it far easier to succeed. If he lost the locker room at Memphis, it could be difficult to get it back, but it might be easier to gain the respect at a new home. It also takes a little bit of the pressure off that was building in Memphis. With the full backing of the administration and at least a year of backing by the fans, confidence might start building again.
All that said, I do not believe that this was the right hire for the Yellow Jackets, and I would be surprised if Pastner brings more than intermittent success to the Flats. His strong recruiting but inability to develop players and any offensive scheme are reminiscent of late-era Paul Hewitt. He should bring stronger talent to Atlanta than Yellow Jackets fans have seen in years, but he will be facing up against plenty of ACC coaches who can recruit, develop players, AND coach their schemes. I'm not convinced that Pastner will be able to do the latter two well enough to compete regularly. We might see some super talented teams have success, but when that talent leaves, will Pastner be able to sustain that success? I can see Pastner succeeding at Georgia Tech, but the vision is a bit hazy. This hire has given me hope, but no expectations of success.