Mike Bobinski told us what he believed Georgia Tech could be. “All the elements are in place,” the athletic director said in March 2015. “There’s no reason not to have a successful college basketball program.” It’s now up to him to supply the element that has gone missing — the right coach.
Tech basketball has fallen so far that this season’s NIT bid was seen by some as a breakthrough. The Yellow Jackets have made the NCAA tournament once since 2007. They haven’t signed a McDonald’s All-American since Derrick Favors in 2009. They cannot fill their rebuilt arena. They’ve fired two coaches in five years. They’ve become a bottom-feeder in a league that’s guaranteed of having half this year’s Final Four.
But it wasn’t always thus. Tech played for the 2004 NCAA title. It reached the 1990 Final Four. From 1985 through 2010, it made the Big Dance 15 times and won three ACC tournaments. From 1983 through 2009, the Jackets signed 16 McDonald’s All-Americans. In the mid-’80s Tech basketball was the hottest sports ticket in a major-league city.
If the Jackets are to return to that exalted plain, Bobinski must supply the push. He’s a basketball guy. He was the AD at Xavier, a major program in a major city. He was chairman of the NCAA tournament committee. When he was hired by Tech, some alums wondered if he knew or cared anything about football; there has never been a question about his basketball bona fides.
His mission: To take a program that has gone bad and make it really good again. Anyone who knows anything about hoops could tell two years ago that Brian Gregory was in over his head, but he wasn’t Bobinski’s hire. He was Dan Radakovich’s, and D-Rad went cheap and easy. (Given that Tech had to pay Paul Hewitt $7.2 million to leave, there wasn’t much choice.)
It’s different now. Hewitt is still being paid through 2019, and Gregory will get his $1.3 million gold-and-white parachute, but most of that $7.2 million is off the books. In Gregory, it got what it paid for — a ragingly ordinary coach. That cannot happen again.
It was impressive that Bobinski cut through the feel-good blather of Tech’s rise to the NIT to see the real issue: If one modest run at the shank of Year 5 is the best a coach can do, that’s not enough. Finding somebody better than Gregory won’t be hard, but Bobinski has to aim higher than that. The elements are in place, to use his turn of phrase.
Everything that held sway when Tech was winning its conference and reaching the Final Four remains: The Jackets play in the ACC and are based in Atlanta, capital of a state that produces a bushel of basketball talent. According to ESPN, seven of the top 57 recruits for 2017 — and three of the top 13 — are from Georgia. If you’re Bobinski, those are your Talking Points: The ACC, the A-T-L and recruits.
In speaking with fellow ACC writers here Friday, the feeling was that Tech basketball, albeit devalued, should be a prime job. Get the right guy and let him sign the right recruits, and this could again rise to Tier 2 status in the nation’s most celebrated conference — not on a par with Duke and North Carolina and Louisville and Syracuse, but alongside Virginia and Notre Dame.
And if a prospective coach says, “I don’t want to butt heads with four Hall of Famers,” Bobinski should note that Mike Krzyzewski is 69, Roy Williams 65, Rick Pitino 63 and Jim Boeheim 71. Not to go all Tennyson on you, but the old order will changeth.
Names? Start with Gregg Marshall of Wichita State. He turns down everybody, but he thought hard about Alabama last year. Chris Mack is an obvious call, given that Bobinski hired him at Xavier. Archie Miller is, too: Just because one Dayton coach whiffed at Tech doesn’t mean a second would. Tommy Amaker might be an option, although his pal Danny Ferry insists he’s content at Harvard.
If none of the above shows interest, Bobinski shouldn’t settle for the mid-major flavor of the month. (And I don’t see Mark Price, 14-19 in his first season at Charlotte, as an answer.) A bit of creativity would be warranted. Nobody expected Buzz Williams to leave Marquette for Virginia Tech, but he’s working in Blacksburg.
My out-of-the-box name is two names: Ben Howland and Korey McCray of Mississippi State. Howland took UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours; McCray is the former coach of the AAU Atlanta Celtics. As Howland’s chief recruiter, he helped UCLA sign the No. 1 class in 2012; Mississippi State’s class for 2016 ranks fifth nationally. That’s after a year of recruiting to Starkville. Imagine what they might do in Atlanta.
Put bluntly, Georgia Tech is desperate. A proud program has gone to seed because a good coach (Hewitt) lost his way and a mediocrity (Gregory) never rose above his station. To remedy that, Bobinski cannot hire just a guy. He has to hire the Right Guy. Call me crazy, but I like his chances.
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