Josh Pastner out at Georgia Tech after seven seasons

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner. AP file photo

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner. AP file photo

He led Georgia Tech to its highest height in more than 15 years, but was unable to sustain that success. After two seasons in which the Jackets ranked among the least successful teams among the power conferences, coach Josh Pastner was dismissed Friday at the end of his seventh season by athletic director J Batt, Tech announced Friday afternoon.

The announcement came after reports, including by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that Pastner had been fired. Team members were informed of the decision Friday at the team’s practice facility. Batt further announced that associate head coach Anthony Wilkins, who has been on the staff since 2018, will be the interim head coach during the search process.

“We have high expectations at Georgia Tech for all of our sports programs, and it is imperative that our storied men’s basketball program achieves a greater level of success,” Batt said in a statement. “Our men’s basketball program is important to our department and to our institution. We will not shy away from expecting to consistently compete for ACC championships, NCAA Tournament appearances and sustained success. I am confident that with the combined strength of the Institute and our incredible fan base, as well as the support of our city, we can reach our shared goals.”

Tech completed its season Wednesday at the ACC Tournament, losing to Pittsburgh at the end of a remarkable turnaround in the final 10 games of the season. After losing nine games in a row – Tech’s longest losing streak since the 1980-81 season – and seeing their record drop to 8-15, the Yellow Jackets rallied to win seven of their final 10 games games to finish at 15-18.

While a demonstration of the relentlessness that Pastner’s teams consistently demonstrated – he often spoke of how he wanted his teams to kick, scratch, claw and punch their way off the ropes when facing adversity – it was not enough to earn an eighth season. His mark over seven seasons was 109-114.

“Josh is a very nice person,” Tech legend Bobby Cremins told the AJC. “He’s done some great things, and unfortunately, he got off to a really tough start this year. Things looked really bleak, and then he went to a smaller lineup and really (began playing well). If they’d have played like this earlier, you wouldn’t be talking to me now.”

Pastner’s tenure will be remembered for the 2021 ACC championship – Tech’s first since 1993 – and his seemingly endless enthusiasm and positive energy. He spoke of how he didn’t see the glass as half full, but instead overflowing.

He was generous with his time and happily served as an ambassador for Tech. On behalf of the ticket office, he called fans to help sell season tickets and even personally answered emails from fans telling him that he should resign.

“Coach Pastner has been an incredible ambassador for Georgia Tech, treating others with the utmost respect and wearing his passion on his sleeve,” Batt said. “His genuine care for student-athletes, our men’s basketball program, our athletics department and the Institute is unquestionable. On behalf of the Georgia Tech community, I want to offer my sincere gratitude to Josh, his wife, Kerri, and their family for their service to the Institute. We wish them all of the very best wherever their journey takes them next.”

“It was very obvious he cared very deeply about his players and their lives on the court as well as off the court,” Randy Waters, the team’s longtime radio analyst, told the AJC.

Waters recalled Pastner, before road trips, speaking in detail with players who weren’t able to travel with the team about academic assignments that they needed to complete while the team was away.

“I saw that multiple times,” Waters said.

Pastner also took pride in the development of players such as Moses Wright (2021 ACC player of the year), Jose Alvarado (2021 ACC defensive player of the year, four-year NBA contract), Josh Okogie (first-round NBA draft pick) and Ben Lammers (2017 ACC defensive player of the year), who achieved success despite arriving on campus with little to no recruiting fanfare.

The change adds to a season of profound transition within Tech’s athletic department, following the September dismissals of athletic director Todd Stansbury and football coach Geoff Collins and the hiring of their replacements, Batt and Brent Key, respectively. Since the early days of college athletics, when coaching was not a full-time profession, this is the first time in Tech history in which the AD, head football coach and head men’s basketball jobs will have all changed hands in the same academic year.

Batt will look for new leadership of a team that has made one NCAA Tournament since 2010 but also ranks among the least financially supported programs in the ACC. Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, who has led the Owls to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth after winning a single game in his first season (2019-20), is sure to be a popular choice among fans. Abdur-Rahim spent one year at Tech as director of player development for former coach Brian Gregory and also served for one year at Georgia for former coach Tom Crean, helping land five-star prospect and eventual first overall NBA draft pick Anthony Edwards. Pastner’s difficulties in convincing the best of the state’s prospects to sign with Tech were among his shortcomings.

Pastner was hired in April 2016 by then-AD Mike Bobinski from Memphis to succeed Gregory, who coincidentally also was let go Friday from his position as head coach at South Florida after six seasons.

Pastner won immediately, leading a team picked to finish 14th in the ACC to a 21-16 record and earning ACC coach-of-the-year honors. In his second year, his tenure was sideswiped by a former friend’s charges that he had sexually assaulted his girlfriend, allegations that proved unfounded and ultimately brought about a guilty plea last week for conspiracy to commit extortion in a federal case.

The allegations, as well as an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations that ultimately resulted in a postseason ban, hung over Pastner’s program following the initial success as he initiated his “get old and stay old” vision for the team. After two losing seasons, the Jackets earned their first winning ACC record since the 2003-04 season just before the pandemic and then followed it with Tech’s most successful season since that same season. Led by Alvarado and Wright, Tech stormed to the ACC championship in 2021, the program’s first since 1993.

With his relentless positivity and his ubiquitous face shield, Pastner became the toast of college basketball.

In the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, Tech’s chances were derailed when Wright tested positive for COVID-19 following the ACC title game. Without their best player, the Jackets lost in the first round to Loyola of Chicago.

Pastner was not able to replicate that success in his final two seasons. After the ACC title season, Alvarado and Wright both considered returning for a fifth season, as granted by the NCAA to athletes who competed in the 2019-20 year, but ultimately chose to turn professional. However, they did not make their final decisions until later in the pre-draft process, which impacted Pastner’s chances to recruit players out of the transfer portal who were interested, but only if Alvarado or Wright didn’t return.

Still, a team picked to finish 10th in the ACC and led by ACC Tournament MVP Michael Devoe stumbled to 14th, finishing with a 12-20 record.

This season, with a promising core in sophomores Deebo Coleman, Miles Kelly and Jalon Moore and veteran transfer-portal additions in forward Ja’von Franklin and guard Lance Terry, Pastner expected that his team would outperform its last-place projection. However, the team was slow to gel and lost nine consecutive games in league play, losing seven of them by double digits. It was then that Tech fans’ calls for Pastner’s job grew loud, a reaction reinforced by light attendance at McCamish Pavilion.

The Jackets broke out of their slump with an impressive finish, winning six of their final eight regular-season games, though it moved the team up only to 13th place. The closing run included a 96-76 win at Syracuse in which the team set a school record with 18 3-pointers, confirmation that Pastner’s continually stated belief that his team could be an effective perimeter-shooting team was not mere optimism but reality.

At the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, site of the team’s 2021 ACC title, the Jackets won their first-round game over Florida State on Tuesday before losing to Pittsburgh in the second round Wednesday to finish the season at 15-18. After the game, he extolled his players for the resolve they showed in turning the season around after the losing streak. Players lobbied for his return after the loss.

“I love coach Pastner,” Kelly said. “I think he should be the Georgia Tech coach forever.”

After the Pitt game, Pastner said he was sad that the season had come to an end, “but I’m beyond proud and at peace and really content and just have tremendous enthusiasm for our young men for how they battled and fought back,” he said after the game Wednesday. “And I want to continue to be at Georgia Tech. I pray, I hope I get the opportunity to do so.”

However, it was not enough to save Pastner’s job. Pastner will be owed about $2.5 million payable over the remaining three years of his contract. For an athletic department that sent Collins out the door with an $11.4 million buyout and has made significant investments into Key’s program, it’s another significant cost.

Batt, less than five months since he was hired from Alabama, now has made the two decisions that he will be most judged by, changes in the football and men’s basketball coaches. After showing Key support in the form of a salary pool for Key’s staff that was more than 30% larger than the pool Collins had in his final year and throwing his weight behind a collective to supply name, image and likeness deals to players, it would not be surprise if he were to similarly increase the investment in men’s basketball.

“It’s the nature of the business,” Cremins said. “I’m sure it was a tough call, and now you’ve got to go from there.”

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner reacts at the end of the second half against Duke last Saturday in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: Hyosub Shin

icon to expand image

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach Josh Pastner talks with guard Miles Kelly (13) after a play during the second half against the Northern Illinois Huskies in a NCAA men’s basketball game at McCamish Pavilion, Thursday, November 17, 2022, in Atlanta. Georgia Tech won 68-50. Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

icon to expand image

Credit: Jason Getz /