On Monday, Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski spoke to three reporters — esteemed colleague Ken Sugiura and the great Associated Press writer Paul Newberry were the other two — about a development that had caused Bobinski pause: How exactly do you break the news that an employee of yours is still an employee of yours? Hold a press conference? Release a statement? Tweet it in 140 characters?
Bobinski chose to email his athletic board members with the word that Brian Gregory would remain as basketball coach and then go into detail about the decision — a decision the AD admitted might well have gone the other way — with us newspaper types. He spoke with us for more than a half-hour and ducked only one question. (It was mine, and it was so nebulous I’d have ducked it, too.)
My thoughts on the briefing can be found on myajc — “Tech’s Bobinski grants Gregory one last chance” — but I wanted to return to something I considered salient. Asked directly (again, by me) if his decision had been reached because Bobinski didn’t have the money to pay Gregory a $2.4 million buyout on top of the $3.6 million still owed former coach Paul Hewitt, the AD said:
“We had figured all that (financial stuff) out. That was not a driver, not a factor, not a decision-maker here.” (Later he would say that money was an issue but not the determinant.)
Some among you might scoff and say, “Of course it’s all about the money.” I’m not scoffing. I believe the man, and here’s why.
Back in 2011, a man privy to then-AD Dan Radakovich’s thinking kept telling me, “He can’t fire Hewitt. There’s no money.” Until one day when the man said, “Dan’s figured it out. He can get the money. He went off one weekend by himself with his spreadsheets and he found a way.”
The money for Hewitt’s buyout was $7.2 million, exactly three times what Gregory’s would be today, and it came at a moment when the Institute was about to break ground on the the rebuilding of its basketball arena. Sure enough, Hewitt was fired on March 13, 2011.
Some of you scoffers will say, “But Radakovich didn’t have the money. Tech had to restructure Hewitt’s buyout. That’s why they’re paying him through 2019.” I consider that a detail. (It always made sense to stretch a payout of $7.2 million rather than dole it out it out in fatter globs.) The greater point remains: A strapped-for-cash AD managed to find room for the world’s biggest buyout. If D-Rad could do that then, M-Bob could have done this now.
I believe Bobinski when he says he wants to give Gregory — who was hired by Radakovich and whose first season here was, due to Tech playing in two borrowed arenas, a rough ride — enough time that the new AD, who arrived in April 2013, can make a full assessment. I disagree that four years isn’t a sufficient sample size, but I take Bobinski at his word when he says he’s trying to be fair.
From our round table — the four of us actually sat at a round table in Bobinski’s office — Q-and-A, I can report that Gregory’s boss is no Gregory apologist. “We can’t stay where we are,” Bobinski said. And: “We can’t continue to be close.” And: “Offense can’t be something we do between defensive possessions.” And this: “All the elements are in place … There’s no reason not to have a successful college basketball program.”
Bobinski said he told Gregory that “the minute I believe we’re not making substantive process,” his patience will turn to impatience. I didn’t take that as open-ended invitation, as Gregory said after the North Carolina State loss, to “keep doing what we do.” I took that as ultimatum: Do better and do it fast. Or this time next year Georgia Tech will issue a full-blown statement saying it has terminated its basketball coach.