As losses mount, so does pressure on Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner

Georgia Tech sits near the bottom of the ACC standings. Enthusiasm for the Yellow Jackets, who reignited excitement and pride within the fan base only two seasons ago with their first ACC championship since 1993, is waning. As a consequence, patience among fans and decision makers with coach Josh Pastner is thinning.

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A little past the halfway point of the regular season, pressure on Pastner to deliver wins is mounting. The Jackets, who play Syracuse at home Saturday, are 8-10 overall and 1-7 in the ACC, tied for 13th in the league. This follows a season in which the Jackets, defending their 2021 ACC title, finished 14th with a 5-15 league record (12-20 overall).

Before the season, it appeared that multiple factors, including the cost of the football coaching transition and the recent success of the basketball team, made the possibility of a change with Pastner highly unlikely. But the lack of success and a decline in attendance at McCamish Pavilion have drawn the concern of new athletic director J Batt, a person familiar with the situation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Making a change would be costly, but manageable, according to the same person. Pastner has three years remaining on his contract, and the buyout, which could be paid out over those three years, would be around $2.5 million. The strong preference would be for the Jackets to win enough over the final 13 regular-season games to eliminate that as a possibility.

After the Jackets’ 78-66 home loss to N.C. State on Tuesday, Pastner addressed the diminished crowd support. Attendance in the 8,600-seat arena was announced at 4,242, which appeared larger than the actual number of fans in the building. Of Tech’s 10 home dates against ACC competition last season, only one game had a lower attendance. Tech has averaged 4,781 in five ACC home games, slightly lower than last season’s average for ACC games (5,125).

“I would say I get it,” said Pastner, who is in his seventh season as the Jackets’ coach. “I understand the fans’ frustration. We’re not winning. We’ve got to win. To win the crowd, you’ve got to win the game.”

Beyond the record, Tech ranks 14th in offensive efficiency in ACC games (KenPom) and 12th in defensive efficiency, which has been the Jackets’ strength with Pastner at the helm. The Jackets did upset then-No. 12 Miami, but have lost six of their seven league games by double digits.

Tech appeared to be peaking in Pastner’s fourth and fifth seasons, when the Jackets finished with a combined record of 34-23, posted winning records in ACC play in consecutive seasons for the first time since a three-year run 1988-90 and, most notably, won the 2021 ACC title behind ACC player of the year Moses Wright and ACC defensive player of the year Jose Alvarado. But, since then, the Jackets are a combined 20-30, finishing 14th in the ACC last season.

Speaking with reporters Friday, Pastner acknowledged the shortcomings of the season.

“I thought we’d have a different record than we have right now,” Pastner said. “We’ve definitely blown some games, but there’s still a lot of time.”

The Jackets often have shown competitiveness in games, but have been betrayed by an offense that can go quiet for several possessions at a time, belying Pastner’s preseason expectations. The Jackets rank 11th in the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage (32.4%) and 14th in overall field-goal percentage (42.4%).

“I thought coming into the year, we were going to be one of the best-shooting teams in my time here as head coach,” Pastner said. “We shot the daylights out of it in the summer and in the fall. We shot the daylights out of it (in preseason scrimmages) against Vanderbilt, against Tulane. We just have not been consisting shooting from 3 this year.”

Their lack of a shot-blocking threat has made their interior defense vulnerable. The roster includes solid complementary players and others with the potential to be stars, but not a player who the Jackets can count on to deliver in key moments.

“We’ve just got to learn how to really put 40 minutes together,” center Rodney Howard said after the N.C. State game. “If we can play 40 minutes, I feel like we’ll be a team that will turn heads. But I feel like the second half, teams kind of just blow open the second half on us.”

It often seems that the Jackets solve one problem, only for another to pop up.

“I don’t think we’re that far off,” Pastner said. “I really don’t. We just need to get over the hump.”

For Pastner and his team, the sooner, the better.