As Georgia Tech opens play in the ACC tournament Wednesday, there’s little question that the Yellow Jackets have made progress in the past 12 months.
At 18-13, the Jackets have won six more games, and their 8-10 ACC record is five wins better than last season. Tech won four ACC regular-season games in a row for the first time since 2001-02. Among the conquests are powerhouses Virginia and Notre Dame and two more teams that could play in the NCAA tournament, Pittsburgh and VCU.
It remains to be seen, though, if that improvement will be enough for coach Brian Gregory to retain his job for a sixth season. Indications are that athletic director Mike Bobinski has not made a decision on Gregory’s fate, holding to his intention to withhold judgment until after the season.
Given Bobinski’s devotion to process and evaluating a body of work, it is highly unlikely that the decision will hinge on what round the Jackets reach in Washington, unless they win the whole thing.
“I know Mike — he’s a guy who’s going to step back and going to analyze things very carefully,” said Steve Zelnak, a major donor to the school and athletic department who chaired the committee that hired Bobinski.
Bobinski declined comment, not wanting to create a distraction during the conference tournament. Tech, the No. 10 seed, plays No. 7 seed Clemson at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center.
Cases can be made for both sides.
Keeping Gregory: 18 wins overall and an 8-10 league record is indisputable improvement. The six wins in the final eight games, all by six points or fewer, dispel the criticism that he can’t win close games. The team’s efficient offensive play has answered a directive from Bobinski to improve at that end of the floor. Gregory has demonstrated that his teams will consistently play with effort.
Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt is a shining example of his ability to develop players who excel on the court and represent the school well. Gregory has led a complete reversal of the team’s academic record, which was abysmal when he was hired in March 2011. He signed three players in the fall that different scouting services rated in the top 150 in the country.
Firing Gregory: With one of the more experienced teams in the country, the Jackets likely won’t do better than the NIT unless they win the ACC tournament or at least reach the finals. The team’s strong finish doesn’t erase its 2-8 record in the first 10 games of the ACC season. Gregory has relied heavily on transfers, particularly this season.
Gregory stepped into a major rebuild, and the ACC has become significantly more competitive under his watch, but the team’s five-year winning percentage in the league (.307) is poorer than the last five seasons of coach Paul Hewitt’s tenure (.363).
There are more factors Bobinski will have to wade through. Was the strong finish a sign of things to come or the result of five seniors raising their play as their careers close? Would it be better to give a new coach a chance to try to recruit a talent-rich junior class in the state or to let Gregory and his staff continue the relationships they have developed? What’s the better way to manage a likely dropoff next season after the team’s five seniors graduate?
Can a department that hustles to break even take on a buyout for Gregory ($806,250 next year and $537,500 in 2017-18) on top of three more years of Hewitt’s ($906,250 through 2018-19) and hire a new coach and staff, particularly one that would be a clear upgrade? Would boosters be willing to defray the expenses?
Twelve months after deciding to grant Gregory another season, a decision looms once again.