Pastner out after seven seasons, Stoudamire in

Former men’s basketball head coach Josh Pastner on the side of the court at a December 2019 game against Nebraska. // Photo by Tuna Ergan Student Publications

Men’s basketball head coach Josh Pastner has been relieved of his duties after seven seasons at the Institute. On March 10, just two days after the team’s season ended in Greensboro, N.C. against Pittsburgh, Tech athletic director J Batt announced Pastner’s departure from the program. This past Monday, Boston Celtics assistant coach Damon Stoudamire was named as Tech’s fifteenth head basketball coach. 

Pastner joined the Institute staff in 2016 after spending seven seasons with the University of Memphis as head basketball coach. He went 167-73 during his time with the Tigers, taking over the head coach position at the age of 31 in 2009. He brought Memphis to the NCAA Tournament for four consecutive seasons, in three of which they also received Conference USA tournament titles. He made history at Memphis as the winningest head coach for the first six seasons in the history of Memphis’s program. While he did bring the team to four NCAA Tournaments in his first five seasons, he failed to do so in his final two. In his final season with Memphis, the team went 19-15 and shrunk in size and talent as players transferred out. Pastner’s end at a jaded Memphis was a blessing for Tech, who needed serious rebuilding and a replacement for former head coach Brian Gregory.

The ebbs and flows of his time at Memphis parallel those at Tech. He started out strong at both, bringing his teams to championships towards the middle of his tenure and producing conference award-winning talent. The Jackets saw three winning seasons and their first ACC Championship since 1993 under his leadership and he developed multiple NBA prospects and draft selections. 

When Pastner arrived at Tech after his Memphis team fizzled out, he took Tech from an underwhelming roster to a conference underdog. With ACC coaches publicly praising Pastner’s contributions to the slowly developing 2016-2017 team, campus spirit for basketball was rekindled by his arrival. In his first season with the Yellow Jackets, the team went 21-16, exceeding the expectations of most. 

The potential that Pastner showed to rebuild the program led to his contract being extended to the 2022-2023 season, and he was awarded 2016-2017 ACC Coach of the Year – only the third Tech basketball coach to receive the honor. Despite the excitement, Pastner would not have a winning season again with the Jackets until the 2019-2020 season, which was tainted by the COVID-19 pandemic and Tech’s exclusion from participation in the postseason. 

The following season, however, was a historic one for Tech. After no appearances in the ACC Tournament for nearly 30 years or the NCAA Tournament for 11, Pastner brought the Jackets to both. With berth in the NCAA Tournament, an ACC Championship win, an 11-game winning streak at home and multiple players winning ACC honors, Tech’s program enjoyed an immensely successful season that cashed in on the potential Pastner promised. This would be Pastner’s last winning season, with a 17-9 overall record and an 11-6 record in the ACC. 

Similar to his time at Memphis, Pastner’s last two years were significantly worse than his best times. The 2021-2022 was a disappointing follow-up to the team’s championship season, and Pastner’s failure to recruit top billing to the team began to show in the season’s losing record. In the final season of his contract, Pastner’s team went 15-18 overall and 6-14 in the conference, ending in a loss to Pitt in the second round of the ACC Tournament. 

Pastner departed from Tech with a record of 109-114. J Batt, the athletic director hired in October, released a statement thanking Pastner for his time and expressing Tech’s desire to improve.

“We have high expectations at Georgia Tech for all of our sports programs, and it is imperative that Men’s Basketball achieves a greater level of success,” J Batt wrote in his message. “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.” 

Pastner is the second head coach that J Batt has fired since his arrival to the Institute in October. Former football head coach Geoff Collins was relieved of his duties in the fall, and his assistant coach Brent Key was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Associate head coach Anthony Wilkins was named the interim head coach for the brief period that Tech sought Pastner’s successor. Wilkins’ stint, was short-lived as Tech announced the hiring of Boston Celtics assistant coach Damon Stoudamire to the head coach vacancy on Monday, about 48 hours after news broke of Pastner’s departure. Stoudamire has entered a five-year contract with Tech, while Pastner’s three-year contract extension post-ACC title puts Tech $2.5 

million out to him. Stoudamire played at Arizona from 1991-1995, departing one year before Pastner’s arrival to the Wildcats. He boasts an impressive professional career with four different NBA teams and won NBA Rookie of the Year in the 1995-1996 season. His 15-year run in the league as a point guard was immediately followed by his entrance into coaching, and he held a head coach position at the University of the Pacific for five seasons. He departed collegiate coaching to assist the Boston Celtics in 2021. As lead assistant coach, Stoudamire has been valuable for the development of the Celtics, helping Boston go to the 

2022 NBA Finals in his first season there. Now, with five seasons in front of him, Stoudamire will have his work cut out for him. The Yellow Jackets have not seen a NCAA Tournament win in 12 years, only appearing in the tournament three times since 2005. Pastner’s firing has already caused one prospective Tech player, high school senior guard Blue Cain, to reopen his recruitment and release himself from his National Letter of Intent to Tech. Despite Atlanta’s rich recruitment pool, Tech’s recruiting classes have ranked consistently low in the last few years, with the exception of 2021’s No. 17 recruiting class. Tech hosted an introductory press conference for him on Tuesday. Stoudamire reflected a desire to recuperate the program to its former Bobby Cremins-era glory.

“This is a tradition-rich program, and one that aspires to get back to winning championships,” the new head coach said. “We’re going to galvanize the community, the student body, and just get this thing going in the right direction.” 

With Stoudamire and Pastner being Tech’s contributions to the coaching carousel, the future of Jackets men’s basketball is unclear – but the new coach’s attitude, much like a particular coach before him, is enthusiastic.