Over the course of a 30-minute interview Tuesday, Josh Pastner was interrupted by a knock on his door by his school’s golf coach (quick hello and to pass along the name of a basketball recruit) and I’d estimate 25 text messages (Pastner’s eyes shifting to his phone with every ding and vibration from a college, high school or AAU coach or recruit).
“I hate sleeping right now — I feel like I can be getting something done,” Pastner said. “Sometimes I go to sleep forgetting that I haven’t eaten all day.”
These are his chaotic early days as Georgia Tech’s basketball coach. He’s trying to keep recruits who signed to play for former coach Brian Gregory, pacify players already on campus, recruit for 2017-18 and hire assistants. Because right now he has none.
Pastner said he received 1,421 text messages by late Friday night after his hiring. He has received more than a thousand since, and returned every one. He was operating on just over two hours sleep Tuesday, having sat in his hotel lobby until 2 a.m. returning messages, going to sleep at 3:15, waking up at 5:30, running on a treadmill for 30 minutes (while returning phone calls) and then returning to the office.
This is the easy part of the job. He hasn’t played Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Syracuse or Louisville yet.
A number of people have knocked Tech’s hiring of Pastner. One national columnist labeled the decision “mind-boggling.”
Actually, it’s the reaction to the hiring I find mind-boggling.
Had Tech landed Duke assistant Jeff Capel, it would’ve been viewed as a home run by Athletic Director Mike Bobinski. But Capel’s tenure as Oklahoma’s head coach ended with two horrible, losing seasons and major NCAA probation. Pastner is coming off two mediocre, but winning seasons after five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and lacks the NCAA grease stain on his resume.
Now, I understand why Pastner is perceived as damaged goods. His record the past two seasons (37-29) wasn’t much better than Gregory’s (33-34), and most of his success came before Memphis’ switch from Conference USA to the AAC.
But exactly who did you think Bobinski was going to get?
Tech’s athletic department isn’t flush with revenue. Two former coaches, Gregory and Paul Hewitt, are still on the payroll. The program’s advantages (ACC marquee value, recruiting base, big-city lure) are offset by disadvantages (academics, ACC difficulty, money).
Bobinski was turned down by at least two candidates (Capel, Bryce Drew). He almost certainly was stiff-armed by others (Chris Mack, Archie Miller). He likely came to realize what he had publicly denied: Tech was a tough sell. So the Jackets figured to hire either a coach with either some form of baggage or a young assistant looking for his first shot.
He chose baggage.
Memphis didn’t fire Pastner, but it certainly held the door open for him.
Did perceptions that he is viewed as damaged goods bother him?
“No. But I think narrative, by media and others, you just deal with that,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to change the narrative.
“Memphis was the most intense job in college basketball because of who I was following (John Calipari). When he was deciding whether to take the Kentucky job, there was a helicopter from one of the news stations circling his house — not for a hostage situation but for a basketball coach.”
Would he have even entertained taking the Tech job this offseason if his situation in Memphis wasn’t wobbling?
“Yes, definitely. Because it’s in the ACC.”
Would he have taken it?
“Yeah, I believe I would have. Now, it’s hard to look back and say (what if). But from the time I got the job at Memphis, it was just sustain, sustain, sustain. Right away you had to try to win 30-something.”
As for criticism: “Here’s what I was bothered by: That we were an injury away or a transfer or two away from going to seven straight NCAA tournaments.”
I’m not sure I believe Pastner would’ve come to Tech had Memphis maintained its national presence, but I understand any coach’s desire to rebuild a program. He never had a chance to do that at Memphis.
Pastner got a phone call from Calipari on Friday morning, and the two spoke for 45 minutes.
“He said he thinks it’s a great job, and he was happy for me,” Pastner said.
The new Tech coach has worked for two Hall of Fame coaches (Calipari, Lute Olson at Arizona). He won a ton of games in his only previous head coaching job. We know he can recruit and knows how to work the AAU scene.
Maybe you believe Tech could’ve done better. I think it could’ve done a lot worse.
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