ATHENS — Georgia Tech’s hire of Josh Pastner is being widely derided, which means there’s a good chance he ends up leading the Yellow Jackets to a national championship. That’s just the way it works with these things sometimes.
Never mind that for now. From a Georgia basketball perspective, there’s a lesson here for the segment of the fan base that believes their school would automatically upgrade if Mark Fox were to move on.
Georgia and Georgia Tech are similar enough that Tech’s search offered a sort of hypothetical look at how Georgia’s might have gone if that segment had gotten their wish. (There was never a chance this year, by the way.)
Yes, the two schools are in different conferences. But they’re in the same state, one that’s awash in basketball talent. They’re almost even in prestige, fan support and administrative support. Georgia Tech is in the more prestigious league – which makes it harder to win than at Georgia. But that’s offset by Georgia Tech’s superior history, the Bobby Cremins era not totally in the rearview mirror yet, and a national championship game appearance only 12 years ago. If you polled most in the basketball industry, the guess is most would say Georgia Tech is a slightly better job than Georgia right now.
And yet the Yellow Jackets, after firing Brian Gregory, ended up hiring a coach who most Memphis fans would happily drive to the airport. (That may actually be what happened. Georgia Tech is now paying three basketball coaches, so every penny helps.)
Georgia Tech did apparently go after many of the usual suspects that a Georgia would have. But Jeff Capel, the Duke assistant and former VCU and Oklahoma head coach, withdrew his name from consideration. Bryce Drew apparently chose Vanderbilt over Georgia Tech, and maybe Drew’s a future coaching star, but his Valparaiso team was only in the NIT this year. Who knows who else was pursued, but it’s a decent bet a lot of the same names would have been on Georgia’s very hypothetical list.
When you’re at the Georgia-Georgia Tech level – one that includes most football-centric SEC schools – a basketball search is always a hazzard. Maybe you luck into a good mid-major coach. Maybe you luck into the next Bruce Pearl, without the baggage. Maybe Frank Martin is desperate to leave Kansas State.
Or maybe you hire the next Darrin Horn. Or Dennis Felton. Or Tony Barbee. Or Anthony Grant. Or maybe you have to go Georgia Tech’s route and gamble that a change of scenery will result in Pastner rediscovering his early Memphis years, and that he wasn’t just riding off John Calipari’s coattails. Yes, there’s a lot of optimism about last year’s round of hires: Avery Johnson, Ben Howland, Rick Barnes, Mike White. They combined for zero NCAA berths this year, and Fox, while he didn’t get one either, was playing on Saturday in the SEC tournament, unlike any of those guys.
Another point: Practically speaking, the last few coaching hires in other sports at Georgia aren’t exactly paying off yet. Baseball and gymnastics are not better yet. The jury is out on women’s basketball, where a national search resulted in just promoting the top assistant.
As has been said many times before, more eloquently by my colleague Chip Towers, and by athletics director Greg McGarity last week, Georgia basketball is in pretty good shape now under Fox. There’s plenty of reason for optimism. You don’t have a program in danger of falling off a cliff. The only question is whether, under Fox, it’s now at its ceiling.
If you think that, fine, that’s fair. But would a change automatically be better, or would it represent a huge risk? The answer is pretty obvious now.