Bradley’s Buzz: For Tech’s Pastner, there may be no way back

A university president of my acquaintance once identified the five most important employees of an institution of higher learning. One, shockingly enough, was the prez himself. Another was the bursar, or maybe the dean of students – I forget which. The other three I remember, all having to do with sports.

Athletic director. Head football coach. Head men’s basketball coach.

As we speak, the Georgia Tech Athletic Association could pull off a hat trick of firings over one collegiate year. AD Todd Stansbury and football coach Geoff Collins were given the gate in September. Basketball’s Josh Pastner mightn’t make it past March. His team holds last place in a 15-team league.

Collins didn’t quite make it to the midpoint of his seven-year contract. He’s owed a buyout of $11.37 million, or $1.37M for every game the master marketer won. Pastner’s deal runs through 2025-26, but his gold-and-white parachute, in breaking with grand Tech tradition, is a pittance – $2.5M.

With cash-strapped Tech, we usually ask: Can it afford to fire a coach? With Pastner’s meager buyout, the question becomes: Can it afford to keep him?

His Jackets were 12-20 last season, which was surprising. The 2020-21 team was the ACC champion. Granted, its title came in a truncated-by-COVID season. Granted, Tech didn’t have to play a semifinal in Greensboro due to a positive Virginia test. Still, being the ACC champ – any year, anyhow – is a big deal. After five careening seasons, Pastner’s program had established traction, or so we believed. Fooled us.

Tech was picked to finish last among ACC teams at October’s Operation Basketball, but there’s last and there’s so-bad-you-can’t-look. This team is 8-14, 1-11 in league play. It lost at home Saturday to unranked Duke by 43 points. It lost Wednesday to the worst team in Louisville history, the 10-point victory lifting the Cardinals to 3-19.

Tech has been outscored by 167 points by ACC brethren, an average margin of minus-13.9. The Jackets have made 38.9 percent of their shots in conference play, 29.7 percent of their 3-pointers. League opponents have made 47.7 percent of their shots. Over its past two games, Tech is 35-for-116 from the field. That’s 30.2 percent.

The coach who turned the zero-star Moses Wright into the ACC player of the year; the coach whose changing defenses befuddled the likes of North Carolina and Florida State and Notre Dame back in 2016-17; the coach who endured the slings and arrows cast by friend-from-hell Ron Bell … that coach, Josh Pastner, appears helpless. Two years after winning the most prestigious conference, the Jackets are non-competitive in that conference.

Not many seasons that go so wrong as to leave no way back – in sports, hope tends to spring eternal – but this has the makings of one. (Tom Crean going 6-26 in Year 4 at Georgia was another.) In an ACC without Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, lesser lights – Clemson, Pitt, N.C. State – have risen. Tech has won once since Christmas.

The Jackets are 1-11 in an ACC that has no team in the top 10 of the NCAA’s NET ratings and only two in the top 35. Tech’s 2023 signing class numbers one player – Blue Cain, a 4-star guard from IMG Academy. He’s ranked the 88th-best player by 247Sports. Three Georgia-based players are among the top 10. They’ve signed with USC, Kentucky and UConn.

In-house, Pastner has always been popular. Tech stuck with him through Level I violations and NCAA sanctions. It stuck with him after his first four seasons saw the Jackets go 65-67. More than halfway through Year 7, his record is 102-110.

Pastner wasn’t hired by this AD – he was hired by Mike Bobinski, who predated Stansbury – or by this president. J Batt and Angel Cabrera are surely asking, “If we were good enough to win the ACC, why are we last in the ACC?” There is, alas, no good answer. I’d guess the only way Pastner returns is if he wins the conference tournament again.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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