Nobody should worry about Brian Gregory because he’s going to be fine in the big picture. He has made a lot of money and has guaranteed income for two more years. He has a wife and two daughters and a bunch of friends, many of whom sat in the back of the room during a news conference late Wednesday night and watched as Gregory was beaming following a win of some significance.
But if you’re Gregory, this situation must be a little bit irritating. Georgia Tech won for the 20th time of the season Wednesday over Houston. Granted, it was an opening game of the NIT, the other tournament, the winner of which is afforded the opportunity to scream, “We’re No. 69!” kinda, sorta. But the Yellow Jackets have played a difficult schedule and hadn’t won 20-plus games in six years, so give Gregory some credit.
Many expected this to be his final season at Tech, notwithstanding the two years left on his contract. But the results may cause Tech’s enigmatic athletic director, Mike Bobinski, to balk at making a change.
Bobinski has said he won’t comment on the coach’s future until after the season. He said the same thing about football coach Paul Johnson in 2014 when Johnson also was looking at the final two years of his deal, until wins over Clemson and Georgia and a berth in the ACC title game prompted the AD to suddenly extend an olive branch, and an extension. (Knowing Johnson, he would’ve walked rather than try to recruit with two years left on his deal.)
Would Bobinski actually fire Gregory after 20 wins?
He said after last season he wanted to see “substantive progress.”
He was asked for specifics, but kept it vague. He said again he sought “clear signs of progress and a belief in the future of the program.”
Progress is obvious.
So Gregory is left to twist in the wind a bit, despite what he calls, “one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever been a part of.”
Is he irritated?
“You have to fight it.You have to fight those thoughts,” he said. “But I never want to fight it for personal reasons. I want to fight it for these guys.”
Then: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘irritated.’ I’d say I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that my story of uncertainty would overshadow the players. I have to fight against those thoughts coming into my head because that’s going to stop me from enjoying what I’m doing, being the best coach I can be, the best father, the best husband. I’m just not going to let that happen.”
Gregory has a term for it: “Half-minded living. I refuse to do it.”
I’ve joked before about Gregory’s perpetual positivity. The man could drive home to find his house had been blown up and remark, “Look at all of this room I have for a new vegetable garden!”
That attitude was necessary to get through his first four seasons. He cleaned up academic issues, dealt with a dearth of talent in the program and was mostly beaten up for four seasons, going 19-51 in the ACC.
Bobinski didn’t fire Gregory after last season’s 12-19 (3-15 ACC) record, likely for financial considerations more than anything. Tech would have been paying two ex-coaches, Paul Hewitt for four more years and Gregory for three, as well as spending on a new coach. Waiting a year would make the financial picture slightly more palatable.
Opposing coaches are like piranhas in situations like this. They made recruiting miserable for Gregory. Tech still managed to sign three solid recruits but said, “We were fortunate to sign the guys we did with the uncertainty we had.”
Recruiting with two years left on his deal after the season? Not happening.
Bobinski hasn’t really put his imprint on anything yet at Tech. He knows, and Gregory knows, the Jackets will lose their four best players from a senior-laden roster and therefore next season could be painful. To extend Gregory would mean potentially hearing complaints from fans if and when the team struggles (and firing him after next season could be more expensive).
But if Bobinski makes a change now, he had better have somebody in mind because Tech isn’t one of those destination jobs like maybe it used to be. And any candidate will seek financial security.
If Gregory loses his job, Bobinski likely had his mind made up long ago, and the only thing that was going to change it was an NCAA bid and maybe a tournament win.
“I wouldn’t want to assume the thought process of anybody above me,” Gregory said.
That’s probably wise.
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