Former Georgia Tech basketball coach Brian Gregory and I arrived in Atlanta on almost the same schedule in 2011. And we both came here from Dayton, Ohio — just about 500 miles up I-75.
I knew him as the basketball coach at the University of Dayton, and that common bond meant we were friends of a kind. I talked to him from time to time, but not at all over the last couple of years. But I always rooted for his teams, went to games and watched a lot on TV.
I knew they were losing more than they should. So his firing wasn’t a surprise, but it sure feels like we’ve lost a good man.
Let me tell you why.
In the fall of that first year, after my family had joined me in Atlanta, my then 16-year-old son was struggling. New home, new school, no friends, his sisters away at college.
I happened to have breakfast with Gregory, interested to hear from him how he felt about the coming season. We talked basketball for a while.
He asked about my family, especially my son, who he’d met as a devoted young fan of his Dayton teams.
I told him of my son’s struggles, and he asked for his phone number.
Of course, I should have recognized at the time I was talking to a guy whose specialty was teenage boys.
Gregory called my son, and invited him to Georgia Tech. He gave him a tour of the facilities, and at one point, as my son recently recounted to me, he had the thrill of being mistaken for one of Gregory’s recruits.
(Just to be clear: My son was not a potential recruit, nor were any of his friends.)
He introduced my son to his assistants, including one who’d been a favorite player at Dayton.
And during some private one-on-one time in Gregory’s office, he talked to him like an adult about the tough time he was having.
“He talked to me for a long time about moving to Atlanta,” Colin said. “He talked to me about how he knew how hard it was. He went through the same thing just months prior. We were both just guys trying to make it in a new school. He explained that I could not take out my frustrations on my parents because in the end this move to Atlanta was what they had to do. He really stressed not to blame my parents and to not give up.”
So we became Tech fans, in part because it gave my son and me something to latch on to as we figured out life together in a new place.
I’m in no position to judge whether Gregory is a good basketball coach. His record speaks for itself. I admit that since my arrival I have wondered about how realistic Tech’s fans are, given the quality of the competition in the ACC.
And it was my son who pointed out in that 2011-12 season (the Jackets played at Philips Arena) the crowd was nearly half the size of the crowds Gregory coached in front of at Dayton.
It’s important to note that Gregory never asked me for anything in return, or even mentioned to me that time with my son. I never heard a complaint from him about how we covered his team, even when the AJC’s columnists called for him to be fired.
But all the speculation pained me. And his firing pains me still.
Kevin Riley is the editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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