In his three years as athletic director at Georgia Tech, Mike Bobinski was not widely appreciated by the Yellow Jackets fan base. But if an AD is ultimately judged on his hiring decisions, then perhaps his tenure might deserve another look.
On Monday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said that Bobinski’s hire, Josh Pastner, should be ACC coach of the year.
“Josh has just taken a team that nobody expected to be even competitive, never mind get an NCAA berth, (to tournament consideration),” Pitino said. “It’s great to see because Josh is a tremendous young man and he’s doing an outstanding job.”
Bobinski, who resigned from Tech last August to take the same job at Purdue, left Tech a parting gift that was largely unappreciated at the time of receipt. Contacted last week, he didn’t have much interest in a “told you so” moment.
“It’s always nice to be right, but I don’t sit here and think about it or dwell on it,” he said. “It’s just not the way I’m wired.”
There were reasons for his lack of popularity with fans, mostly related to his inability to connect with the fan base. Internally, some saw his management style as distant. At the time, his decision to hire Pastner to replace Gregory was also fuel for anti-Bobinski sentiment.
While not always a source of reasoned dialogue, Tech message boards erupted in fury. A Yahoo Sports column deemed it mind-boggling. On the face, it was curious — Pastner was under major heat at Memphis and it was widely believed that only his $10.6 million buyout was keeping him in place. Indeed, in negotiating his departure from Memphis, the school paid him $1.255 million to take the Tech job.
Still, Bobinski said he was confident in his decision, understanding the job and Pastner in a deeper way than “people that are seven circles removed from it.” He said he saw a coach who had been around a lot of success as a walk-on and assistant coach at Arizona, and then himself was highly successful at Memphis before hitting a rough patch.
Further, given Pastner’s commitment to academics (Pastner himself graduated from Arizona in 2 1/2 years), Bobinski thought he would be a much better fit at Tech than Memphis. He also recognized that Pastner had the energy and positivity necessary to revitalize the Jackets. Bobinski dug deep into understanding how the situation at Memphis had grown so toxic and concluded that Pastner needed a new start.
There are instances, Bobinski said, “where a particular place and time and circumstance just don’t work very well for a very talented coach and, given the right environment and the right circumstances, they’re capable of having success. I just felt like that’s where we were headed with Josh.”
Ten months later, Bobinski appears to have been proven correct. With a team that was predicted to finish 14th in the ACC in a preseason media poll, Pastner has led the Jackets to wins over four RPI top-30 teams and a 16-12 record. The team’s success has created more buzz and won more attention than any since the last Jackets team to make the NCAA tournament, in 2010.
Bobinski came to Tech from Xavier with a record of strong basketball hires, having tapped Thad Matta and Chris Mack to lead the Musketeers. The Pastner hire would appear to join them at the top of his résumé.
However, despite his confidence in the decision, Bobinski didn’t see this season coming.
“I am as surprised as everybody, no doubt about that,” Bobinski said.
Beyond surprised, Bobinski said he was thrilled by Tech and Pastner’s success. He said he has watched the Jackets when he can and stays in touch with Pastner through text messages.
“I couldn’t be more pleased for the program, for the players, obviously, to be enjoying a degree of success this year and obviously for Josh and the staff, for everybody down there,” he said.
Bobinski addressed another matter, recognizing it and laughing as it was brought up. A main Pastner talking point since even before the season began was that Bobinski told him during the hiring process that the Jackets might not win an ACC game this season and that, if they did, he should be named the league’s coach of the year.
In a tone more bemused than bothered, Bobinski said that those words never came out of his mouth.
“I never would have said that you’re not going to win a game in the ACC,” Bobinski said. “You know me well enough to know I wouldn’t judge a race before you leave the starting gate.”
Bobinski said he has not brought it up with Pastner.
“That’s just coaches’ dramatic license that they take with things,” Bobinski said with a laugh. “It just kind of comes with the territory.”
Told of his former boss’ denial, Pastner veered wide of the topic.
“I love Mike,” Pastner said in a light tone. “Without him, I wouldn’t be here. But I know what we took over.”
Asked again, Pastner responded, “I love Mike Bobinski.”
In a season that has surpassed all expectations, this will have to pass for conflict.
“Listen, I’m very grateful for Mike,” Pastner said. “He hired me when I wasn’t maybe the cool hire at the time.”