ATLANTA (AP)Josh Pastner was fired Friday as Georgia Tech’s basketball coach, two seasons after he guided the Yellow Jackets to a surprising Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title.
Pastner was dumped after seven seasons at the school in midtown Atlanta, his fate sealed by a second straight losing season and few signs of progress in a program that was once a national powerhouse.
The Yellow Jackets capped a 15-18 campaign Wednesday with an 89-81 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round of the ACC Tournament. They finished 12-20 last season.
“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,” athletic director J Batt said.
“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.”
The 45-year-old Pastner didn’t come close to reaching that standard. His record at Georgia Tech was 109-114, including a 53-78 mark in the ACC. He formerly coached at Memphis, where he spent seven seasons after replacing John Calipari.
Pastner’s lone NCAA appearance at Georgia Tech was one-and-done. The Yellow Jackets followed up their ACC title with a loss to Loyola in the Round of 64 during the pandemic-marred 2020-21 season.
Georgia Tech hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2010, a sharp drop for a program that rose to prominence in the 1980s and ’90s under Bobby Cremins and reached the 2005 national championship with Paul Hewitt as coach.
Anthony Wilkins, who has been on Georgia Tech’s staff since 2018, will serve as the interim coach while the school conducts a search for Pastner’s successor.
Early speculation has centered on Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, who guided the Owls to the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history after they won a single game during his debut season in 2019-20.
Abdur-Rahim spent one year as Georgia Tech’s director of player development for former coach Brian Gregory and also worked one year at Georgia under Tom Crean, helping the Bulldogs land eventual first overall NBA draft pick Anthony Edwards.
Pastner, who came to Georgia Tech from Memphis with a reputation as a stellar recruiter, never lived up to that billing in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets were rarely in the mix for the nation’s top high school prospects, and the lack of five-star talent showed in the record.
Pastner managed only three winning seasons records during his Georgia Tech tenure, which was highlighted by a 17-9 mark and a run to the ACC title with an experienced group led by Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado.
But the Yellow Jackets failed to build on that success, dropping off sharply the last two seasons.
After his final loss, Pastner made a plea to keep his job.
“I love Georgia Tech. I love my job. I have a real passion for it, and I believe in it,” he said.
But Batt, who has only been on the job since October, decided to make the school’s second high-profile coaching change in the last six months.
Batt was hired after Georgia Tech dismissed coach Geoff Collins and athletic director Todd Stansbury early in Collins’ fourth season guiding the football program.
Collins posted a dismal 10-28 record before he was replaced on an interim basis by Brent Key, who led the Yellow Jackets to a 4-4 mark over the remainder of the 2022 season.
Key was eventually hired as the full-time coach.
Collins was entitled to a buyout of more than $11 million, which put a strain on the athletic department’s already tenuous finances.
Now, the Yellow Jackets owe Pastner some $2.5 million over the remaining three years of a contract extension he received from Stansbury after the ACC title run.
Pastner was just 31 when he took over at Memphis in 2009, after Calipari left for Kentucky.
The Tigers kept right on winning, going 130-44 with four NCAA Tournament appearances over Pastner’s first five seasons.
But the program dipped his final two years, posting a 37-29 mark while failing to make the NCAAs. After Georgia Tech fired Gregory in 2016, Pastner jumped at the chance to rebuild the program.
“Look, I would tell you that when I got the job, they told me when I came in, and I met with everybody, that it’s going to be … starting from ground zero,” Pastner said this week. “And they said you’re going to lose so much your first three or four years that you’re going to – we’ve got to have someone that’s going to be ultra-positive because you’re going to lose so much.”
Pastner always remained positive. But he didn’t win nearly enough to keep his job.
Georgia Tech slumped last season, going 5-15 in the ACC, and got off to dismal start in conference play this season, dropping 12 of its first 13 league contests – including a nine-game losing streak.
Pastner’s team rallied late in the year. The Yellow Jackets won six of their final eight regular-season games, though that was only good enough for a 6-14 mark in the ACC.
Then, they knocked off Florida State 61-60 in the opening round of the conference tournament.
In the end, Pastner couldn’t overcome a significant drop in attendance and a tenure that was marred by NCAA sanctions linked to a former friend who was accused of recruiting violations.
Georgia Tech accepted a postseason ban in 2020, when the season shut down anyway because of COVID-19, and some of its sanctions were overturned on appeal.
“We’ve really finished really well this year,” Pastner said. “I wish we started better.” —
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