Josh Pastner was a wunderkind. He was considered the smartest guy on Arizona’s bench even when he was a freshman walk-on, and all Arizona was doing back then was winning the NCAA title. His first job as a head coach was a great one — Memphis, only a year removed from playing for the national championship — and he was 31. He hit the ground flying, if that’s possible. He averaged 26 wins over his first five seasons and made the NCAA field four years running.
If Georgia Tech had tried to hire Pastner three years ago, most among would have stood and cheered. Today the cheering is emanating from Memphis, which has seen its proud program slip into mediocrity. The Tigers have gone 18-14 and 19-15 the past two seasons, not good enough for even the NIT. The school’s president and athletic director issued a statement saying the team “has fallen short in our on-court performance.” When the bigwigs get antsy, your status as wunderkind has officially expired.
I can’t say I saw Pastner-to-Tech coming because I never considered him a realistic candidate. Hire a guy who’s under pressure elsewhere? Isn’t that what Pittsburgh just did with Kevin Stallings? Has anybody stopped laughing about that?
We’ve asked over the last few weeks just how good a job Tech is, and the answer must be, “Not very.” We know Bryce Drew chose Vanderbilt over Tech. We know Jeff Capel removed his name from consideration. with Pastner coming, we know Tommy Amaker and Chris Holtmann aren’t. I’m guessing at least a half-dozen folks had to say no before Pastner got a call.
And I don’t understand it. Tech plays in the ACC, is based in the A-T-L and shares a city with a passel of gifted recruits. (To be fair, Pastner made his reputation as a demon recruiter for Arizona after graduating from college in 2 1/2 years.) If you’re the rest of the ACC and he’s coaching Tech, do you feel threatened? Do you believe a sleeping giant has awakened? No? Can’t blame you there.
Clearly Pastner wasn’t Mike Bobinski’s first choice. That won’t matter if the coach recruits well and wins big, but what’s the likelihood of the latter happening? I’m sorry to say it, but this seems a hire doomed to fail. What makes it worse is that Tech just fired a guy who, even on the day he arrived, never seemed capable of winning all that much — and I liked the Brian Gregory hire better than this.
It’s a lot easier to win big in the AAC, or American Conference — and Pastner never managed that; his biggest winning was done in Conference USA before Memphis moved — than in the bulked-up ACC. Granted, he’ll have the chance to prove all us doubters wrong. But honesty compels me to say that he wouldn’t have been my first pick — or my 10th. I really don’t get this one.