It wasn’t this season that got Brian Gregory fired. It was that this season was a culmination of, not to be cruel, not very much. He took the nation’s third-most-seasoned team (according to Ken Pomeroy’s data) and tied for 11th in a 15-team conference. He took Georgia Tech to the third round of a tournament where nobody remembers even the winner. If this was his best, it wasn’t good enough.
Not many coaches would have gotten a fifth season after the first four Gregory had, but Mike Bobinski stayed his hand. Even then, it was clear the athletic director was struggling with the choice. He was hoping against hope. His hope of a better season was rewarded: Tech went 21-15 after 12-19. His hope of a breakthrough was not.
I’ve used this example before, but here it is again: Virginia Tech went 2-16 in ACC play last season — worse than Georgia Tech’s 3-15 — and saw leading scorer Adam Smith transfer to Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech went 10-8 in ACC play and beat the Jackets in McCamish Pavilion; Georgia Tech went 8-10. Buzz Williams is a good coach. Gregory is a mediocre coach.
I’m sorry. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s what I came to believe. Had he not waited so long to move Marcus Georges-Hunt to point guard, Tech might have made the NCAA tournament. Had he not been almost totally reliant on transfers, the Jackets might have built something more than a nice run at the end of a fifth season. But the ACC had grown, and the ACC had gotten too good for him.
After a narrow loss to Louisville on Jan. 23, Gregory sought to play the pity card, mentioning how difficult his team’s early conference schedule had been. And it had been hard, no question. But this had become the job — taking on not just Coach K and Ol’ Roy and Tony Bennett but Pitino and Boeheim and Brey, too. If Gregory wasn’t up to the task, he needed to move on.
After a victory over Pittsburgh on March 5, Gregory again sounded a discordant note. He used the word “satisfied,” which almost no coach who hasn’t just won the NCAA title ever does. Again we note: A closing flurry had enabled his Jackets to finish 11th. Who’s satisfied with 11th place?
Credit Gregory’s team for not giving up on this season, but we shouldn’t ascribe too much to that. With few exceptions — LSU of recent vintage comes to mind — college teams always play hard. (That’s why it’s called “the old college try.”) For Tech’s five seniors, four of them transfers and none a lock to be drafted by an NBA team, this was a final fling. They won eight of their final 11. They looked like a pretty good team.
But next season would have meant starting over with almost assuredly a lame-duck coach, and a half-dozen of the top 100 recruits for 2017 hail from Georgia. The Jackets could not punt on that class, and they haven’t This was the right move maybe a year too late, but better late than never. And now we’ll see if Bobinski can convince the right guy to come coach Georgia Tech.