After a full two weeks of trusting the process, Georgia Tech's Mike Bobinski has elected to pull the trigger and hire Memphis Tigers head coach Josh Pastner as the new lead man on The Flats. It has been a long and grueling road to finding Brian Gregory's replacement, but Bobinski and the rest of the Georgia Tech brass have now proven that they are ready to take a new step and commit to a young, up-and-coming coach.
Pastner, 38, played for four seasons at Arizona before spending six additional seasons there as an assistant coach from 2002-2008. After one year as an assistant with Memphis, he was promoted to the head coach position which he's held since 2009. His first five seasons with the Tigers were nothing but successful; Pastner went to an NIT and four straight NCAA Tournaments before his team's winning ways gradually subsided starting with the 2014-2015 campaign. Here's a quick look at what his Memphis teams have done:
|NIT Second Round
|NCAA Round of 64
|NCAA Round of 64
|NCAA Round of 32
|NCAA Round of 32
*Memphis played in the Conference USA for Pastner's first four seasons before transitioning to the AAC prior to the 2013-2014 season.
Pastner's overall record at Memphis over his seven seasons stands at a very impressive 167-73, good for a career winning percentage of nearly 70% (69.6%). Similarly, his conference mark of 82-36 (69.5%) would indicate that his teams were amply capable of holding their own against all types of competition, familiar or not.
It's truly difficult to gauge his coaching proficiency just by looking at his teams' cumulative records simply because he took over for a certain John Calipari at Memphis. What this means is that his phenomenal early success very well could be attributed to coaching players recruited to Memphis by Calipari prior to his accepting of the Kentucky job; it doesn't give a clear indication of how much of the Tigers' success was truly Pastner's to take credit for. Consider the following quote from Pastner, given during an interview with ESPN back in 2013:
I'm the crazy man following [Calipari]. I was able to get the job because nobody wanted to follow him. I was probably 199th on the list. I didn't try to change and fix things. I tried to piggyback off the momentum he created.
That statement delivers a very mixed message to a casual onlooker. On one hand, Pastner did the smart thing -- he followed the path laid by one of the best coaches in all of college basketball. On the other hand, it really seems to reinforce the theory that Pastner's success came purely as a result of the seeds sown by Calipari himself. Whether or not that is truly the case can only be discovered with time.
Unfortunately, the hiring is already being perceived by many as a Brian Gregory-esque gaffe by the Georgia Tech front office. The timing on Mike Bobinski's part is confusing to say the least; a 27-18 mark over his final two seasons in a relatively weak conference is hardly inspirational. Additionally, it's highly unlikely that Pastner will come cheap -- he made an annual salary of $2.65 million per year at Memphis and figures to get a pay bump at Tech. His buyout at Memphis, by the way, is a cool $10.6 million; it would be the biggest buyout in college basketball history if Tech were to pay it. Though it seems unlikely (read: zero percent chance) that Tech pays all of that, it's not quite a frugal move for an Athletic Department which is already paying two other basketball coaches.
Interestingly enough, the odds are decent that Tech could even turn a small profit on hiring Pastner because of his hot seat status at Memphis -- his team's disappointing finish this year landed him in hot water with many Tigers fans, many of whom were calling for his firing if not for the aforementioned buyout. In this way, the Pastner hiring feels all too similar to the Brian Gregory hiring of 2011 when Dayton fans were glad to see him go. Hopefully the second time will be the charm.
From a recruiting standpoint, there's absolutely nothing to dislike -- Josh Pastner is an absolute stud. Since his hiring in 2009, Pastner has brought on a staggering 14 four star recruits plus an additional 4 five star recruits. This includes the 2013 recruiting class, one which was ranked third in the entire nation despite Memphis' status as a mid-major program. From 2011 on, Pastner brought on 11 four stars and 2 five stars compared to Brian Gregory's 6 four stars and a goose egg in the five star department over that same time period. Granted, Memphis and Georgia Tech are hardly comparable academically, but are you beginning to see the draw? This is a smart coach who can recruit the Deep South like nobody's business. That above all is something that was missing during Brian Gregory's tenure on The Flats. Academically, Pastner's teams have always done quite well for themselves -- his Tigers received a multi-year APR score (roughly the graduation rate of the team) of 985 in 2015, compared to a similar score of 990 at Tech. Both of those scores, for those unfamiliar with the system, are exceptional; a 1,000 is considered to be perfect.
Are there questions to be asked about this decision? Absolutely. Just remember that you can't critique someone's performance before their first day on the job; give Pastner some time to settle in before passing judgment. Mike Bobinski is a basketball mind worth trusting, and this hiring very well could be the latest success in his long and fruitful career. Only time will tell. In the meantime...
Welcome to The Flats, Coach Pastner! Best of luck with the rebuilding project and on the recruiting trail, which I assume resumes today. Hopefully we can one day look back on this hiring as the turning point for Tech's presently struggling basketball program.