Among ACC coaches who reached a fifth season, Georgia Tech’s Brian Gregory owns the fourth-worst winning percentage in regular-season league play. He’s 21-59 (.263). The only five-year men who fared worse were Clemson’s Larry Shyatt (.250 from 1999-2003); Virginia’s Billy McCann (.238 from 1958-1963) and South Carolina’s Frank Johnson (.231 from 1953-1958).
Jeff Bzdelik of Wake Forest, this century’s most misguided ACC hire, was slightly worse (.250) than Gregory but lasted only four seasons. Les Robinson, whose North Carolina State teams finished last or next-to-last so often that the ACC tournament’s play-in game became known as the Les Robinson Invitational, was actually better than Gregory — .298 over six seasons. But enough with numbers.
It was clear a year ago that Tech’s coach wasn’t up to the task. It’s no less clear today. Tech is 2-8 in ACC play, none of those games having been decided by more than nine points. The Yellow Jackets have just enough talent to compete but seldom manage to win. Stat folks tell us that close games are essentially coin flips, but that presupposes the coin is evenly weighted. Tech’s side is light on tactical nous. The Jackets keep playing the same rigged game and wondering why it turns out the same.
A middling coach can subsist in some conferences. (The SEC, say.) Not in this one. The ACC includes four Hall of Famers — Coach K, Ol’ Roy, Pitino and Boeheim — with 10 total NCAA titles; a two-time national coach of the year (Tony Bennett); the guy who took George Mason to the Final Four (Jim Larranaga); four more (Mike Brey, Jamie Dixon, Mark Gottfried, Buzz Williams) who’ve graced the Elite Eight, and another (Leonard Hamilton) who has reached the Sweet Sixteen with two different schools. That’s 11 men in a 15-team league with better resumes than Tech’s guy.
In 12 full seasons as a head coach, Gregory has taken two teams to the NCAA tournament. (Both at Dayton, in 2004 and 2009.) He has won one NCAA game. (An upset of No. 6 seed West Virginia in 2009.) His Flyers missed the Big Dance in six of his final seven seasons. (They did win the 2010 NIT.)
Gregory wasn’t the hottest guy in hoopdom when he was hired. Given that Tech had to fund Paul Hewitt’s $7.2 million gold-and-white parachute, it couldn’t afford Gregg Marshall of Wichita State or Shaka Smart, then of VCU. In Gregory’s semi-defense, four of the ACC luminaries mentioned above work at schools that weren’t in the league when he arrived. Still, this is what the job has become. If you’ve proved you can’t do it, there’s no reason to keep doing it.
Stumping the band, athletic director Mike Bobinski kept Gregory after Tech went 3-15 in the ACC last season. The Jackets might yet go 6-12 or even 7-11 this time — the schedule’s back nine is softer – but that shouldn’t be seen as significant improvement. Owing to its many transfers, this is among the nation’s most seasoned teams. Next year will see Tech without its four leading scorers and three top rebounders. Unless Ben Simmons gets the itch to leave LSU not for the NBA but for North Avenue, next season will be awful.
Should Bobinski seek to stay his hand and pinch pennies — Gregory’s buyout is $1.343 million, down from the $2.4 million of a year ago; it would shrink to $537,500 after next season — the effect on Tech basketball could be devastating. According to Rivals, seven of the nation’s top 80 recruits for 2017 will hail from Georgia, No. 1 prospect Wendell Carter Jr. of Pace Academy among them. The possibility of a wipeout season capped by a coaching change would surely make most heralded locals look elsewhere.
That’s assuming they’re even inclined to glance at Tech. Not since Dwane Morrison left to carry J.C. Snead’s golf clubs have fortunes been so low. The Jackets have a refurbished arena and an unwatchable product. Having declined to make a move last year, Bobinski has left himself no choice now. If he has to sell the Ramblin’ Wreck for parts to see off Gregory, the AD must get himself to a chop shop.
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