Memphis gets rid of a coach it no longer wanted but could not afford to fire. Josh Pastner gets a fresh start at a power-conference program starved for stability and sustained success.
There's no doubt both are winners now that Georgia Tech has given Pastner an unlikely life line, but the more intriguing question is can the Yellow Jackets claim victory here too?
In the 12 years since Georgia Tech reached the national title game, the Yellow Jackets endured seven years of decline under Paul Hewitt and five years of mediocrity under Brian Gregory. Athletic director Mike Bobinski fired Gregory last month after he failed to make the NCAA tournament for a fifth consecutive season despite an experienced roster with four senior starters.
Georgia Tech's state-of-the-art new arena, rich tradition and fertile recruiting base make it more attractive than many ACC jobs, but the specter of competing in the same league as Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Virginia scared potential candidates away. Bobinski found that out as he swung and missed pursuing Valparaiso's Bryce Drew, Duke assistant Jeff Capel and Butler's Chris Holtmann, which led him to reach out to a coach whose own administration would love to see him move on.
What Georgia Tech is getting in Pastner is a coach who has gone from star in the making, to heir apparent to John Calipari at Memphis, to serial underachiever all before his 40th birthday.
Hailed as a future head coach even while he was still playing for Lute Olson as a walk-on at Arizona, Pastner was all but groomed for the job. This is a guy who studied game film in elementary school, sent detailed scouting reports of prep talent to top college coaches by age 13 and coached a Houston AAU program that included T.J. Ford and Emeka Okafor while still in high school.
Pastner's reputation as a wunderkind actually worked against him in some ways because it helped him land a job for which he wasn't ready.
When Memphis promoted Pastner to head coach in 2009, he was 31 years old and had no prior experience as a head coach at the college level. He was not yet qualified to run a top 20 program, let alone one Calipari had just taken to four consecutive seasons of 33 or more wins.
Pastner's charisma, intelligence and work ethic initially helped him recruit at nearly as high a level as Calipari had. In his first four classes at Memphis from 2010-2013, Pastner landed 14 Rivals 150 prospects including eight ranked in the top 50.
Where Pastner ran into problems was his inability to coax enough wins out of his most talented rosters.
He won only two league championships in seven seasons at Memphis even though his teams spent four years in the threadbare Conference USA and three years in the solid but unspectacular American Athletic Conference. He made four NCAA tournaments, but he only won two games and never made it beyond the round of 32.
Pastner's inability to approach or match Calipari's success at Memphis led to backlash that made it tough for him to sustain his initial recruiting success. His final two Memphis teams were only modestly talented, played in front of sparse crowds at home games and never sniffed NCAA tournament contention.
It also didn't help Pastner that he never seemed to address his weaknesses in player development and as a tactician. From Robert Kirby, to Damon Stoudamire, to Luke Walton, to Keelon Lawson, to Glynn Cyprien, all the men who coached under Pastner never held head coaching jobs and were best known for their prowess as recruiters.
Only a few weeks ago, Memphis had to decide whether it was easier to stomach one more season with a lame-duck coach or paying Pastner a reported $10.6 million not to coach their team. They were prepared to tolerate meager crowds and a poor win-loss record for one more year until along came Bobinski, seemingly out of nowhere.
One key for Pastner at Georgia Tech will be hiring a staff that complements him better than the one he had at Memphis did. He needs a tactically savvy assistant with head coaching experience to fill the same role for him that Mike Dunlap initially did for Steve Lavin at St. John's a few years back.
Another key will be tapping into a 2017 recruiting class that boasts eight top 100 prospects who hail from Georgia including No. 4 Wendell Carter and No. 20 Ikey Obiagu. The Yellow Jackets desperately need the influx of talent since the only four players on this past season's team to average more than five points per game are all seniors set to graduate this spring.
Best-case scenario for Georgia Tech: Pastner excels with a fresh start and more realistic expectations, woos several members of that promising in-state 2017 class and evolves into a more capable tactician with the help of his new staff. Worst-case scenario for Georgia Tech: The fan base turns on Pastner from the start, he can't build any recruiting momentum and even in his second gig, he is still an X's and O's disaster.
So while it's possible that Pastner succeeds at Georgia Tech in a way he never could at Memphis, the hire the Yellow Jackets made is far from a sure bet.
Memphis and Pastner can both celebrate badly needed fresh starts. Georgia Tech can only hope it doesn't regret giving a wunderkind-turned-serial underachiever a second chance.
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