Josh Pastner has coached his final game for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
The school announced, on March 10, that it has parted ways with the affable and unfailingly optimistic men’s basketball head coach, one who has been a pillar of Atlanta’s Jewish community since he came over from the University of Memphis, where he was previously the men’s head coach, in 2016.
“I loved my time at Georgia Tech,” Pastner said Sunday in an exclusive interview with the Atlanta Jewish Times. “I was extremely blessed to be able to have the opportunity to be the head coach at Georgia Tech for seven years. We had a lot of success and accomplished things that hadn’t been done in decades. I loved every second being the head coach. I never took a second of being the head coach of Georgia Tech for granted. I loved all the people that I was around, obviously my student-athletes that I got to coach, my staff. I just loved being around the people at Georgia Tech. I am forever grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to whatever happens for the next opportunity.”
Over Pastner’s seven-year run in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets amassed a 109-114 record, including a 53-78 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference competition. Under Pastner’s leadership, Georgia Tech only made one NCAA appearance, and it was short-lived: following their ACC title during the 2020-21 campaign, the Yellow Jackets fell to Loyola University, 71-60, in the opening round of March Madness. After finishing 12-20 last year, Georgia Tech only made a modest improvement this past winter, going 15-18, which included a season-ending 89-81 loss to the University of Pittsburgh in the second round of the ACC tournament.
I never took a second of being the head coach of Georgia Tech for granted. I loved all the people that I was around, obviously my student-athletes that I got to coach, my staff. I just loved being around the people at Georgia Tech. I am forever grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to whatever happens for the next opportunity.
After two consecutive losing seasons and no indications that the Yellow Jackets were getting closer to their first NCAA tournament win since 2010, Georgia Tech director of athletics, J Batt, who’s only had the AD job since October, made his move.
“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 in an official announcement made by the school. “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.”
Pastner made just as much of an impact in the NCAA basketball world as he did in the Atlanta Jewish community.
“I tried to be as active and as involved in the Atlanta Jewish community as possible and tried to do a lot on campus with the Hillel,” he said. “My family, myself, we love Atlanta. Atlanta’s a great place. Beautiful people. Great people. Only positives from my standpoint. All positive.”
Anthony Wilkins, who has been on Pastner’s staff since 2018, will serve as the program’s interim coach while the school searches for its next permanent hire. There’s already speculation that Kennesaw State University head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, who’s currently leading the Owls into March Madness only two years after the team went 1-28 during his first season at the helm, is the front-runner to succeed Pastner and, perhaps, revitalize a program that was once a perennial contender for a national title under Bobby Cremins and, later, Paul Hewitt, the latter of whom guided the Yellow Jackets to the 2004 national championship game.
“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 added. “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 fanbase, as well as the support of our city, we can reach our shared goals.”
Following his team being eliminated in the aforementioned March ACC tourney, Pastner was asked the inevitable question about his job being in jeopardy, given the back-to-back losing seasons. The 45-year-old coach, one whose college basketball career began in 1996 when he was a walk-on freshman for the eventual national champion University of Arizona Wildcats, delivered the following remarks:
“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—you’re starting from ground zero. 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.’
“Initially, they told me they didn’t know if I could handle it because, at Memphis, we had won a lot of games. We had won quite a bit at Memphis. I said, ‘No, I’m excited about the rebuild. I’m excited about that.’
“It took us some time, but I told everyone there that it was going to be five years. We were really good in year four. Obviously, the COVID thing happened, and then we were really good in year five.
“Look, last year, we didn’t have as great of a year. We’ve really finished really well this year, and I wish we started better—we started fine, it was probably more that middle run. But, I would tell you, I hope to be at Georgia Tech. I love Georgia Tech. I love my job. I have a real passion for it, and I believe in it.”
In what would ultimately be his final press conference as Georgia Tech men’s basketball head coach, Pastner was also quick to point out that, as passionate as he is for all things Georgia Tech basketball, his long-term future at Georgia Tech was a matter for school president Angel Cabrera and Batt to decide.
Certainly, one of the administration’s sources of disappointment in Pastner’s tenure was his inability to recruit topflight talent—something he was masterful at doing as the successor to John Calipari at Memphis last decade; in particular, following the team’s unexpected run to an ACC championship in March 2021, which was presumed to be a long-term boost to the struggling program, Pastner waited on cornerstone players, Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado, to decide whether they were returning to Atlanta. While Pastner postponed the search for two critical transfer replacements, the dynamic duo of Wright and Alvarado ultimately declared for the NBA Draft, initiating Georgia Tech’s downward spiral.
Pastner is owed $2.5 million over the remaining three years of a contract extension he received following the 2020-21 season.
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