Georgia Tech appears to have hired Dayton coach Brian Gregory to replace the ever-underwhelming Paul Hewitt. Jeff Schultz gives them the skewering he normally reserves for all things Bulldog-related, and Tech fans over at Stingtalk are reacting in their usual measured manner (Stingtalk logic: so unassailable that it need not be spelled out in the form of premised argumentation. Subtle, nuanced barbs about how the other guy "sucks" will do just fine).
Despite my fondest wishes, it's likely not the worst hire in the world. I was pushing Ron Jirsa, but I fear I might have seemed a bit transparent in my motives. But as we sit here today, it damned sure doesn't look like the best possible hire either. Gregory led the Flyers to a 7-9 record and 8th place regular season finish in the Atlantic 10 this season, a deflating effort after the team beat North Carolina last season to capture the NIT title.
Taking an A-10 team to the NIT title is a pretty impressive accomplishment. He did it once, it's entirely reasonable to believe he could do it again. But if you're going to hire a midmajor guy, you want someone who's shown he can do it year in and year out, developing successive classes of players. Gregory hasn't been terrible at Dayton, but he hasn't been Gonzaga's Mark Few or Butler's Brad Stevens, either. Those guys have shown a gift for taking the big schools' sow's ears and turning them into a succession of silk purses. The jury's still out on Gregory in that regard.
I find the hire particularly interesting given what most of the Tech fans I know had been telling me about the hire. It was pretty widely assumed that Tech would go after a young up and coming coach and that private donors had finally put up enough cash to allow Tech to shop fairly freely. This hire doesn't seem like the kind of hire you make when you're serious about putting your ACC basketball program back on the map. Rather it seems like a decent hire designed to right the ship. Georgia Tech basketball has had a dark clound hanging over it for a couple of seasons now, and getting rid of Paul Hewitt was the first step back into the sunshine for Jacket fans. If Tech fans were looking to move forward, they could do a lot worse than Gregory.
Tennessee has likewise filled it's opening, securing the services of Missouri State's Cuonzo Martin. Martin led the Bears to a 26-9 record in 2012, culminating in a second round NIT loss to Miami. Last season his team captured the CIT championship in his second year on the job, turning around the 11-20 record of his first season. Martin also played and served as an assistant at Purdue under legendary coach Gene Keady, reputed to have run among the toughest practices in college basketball.
Tennessee still doesn't know exactly what the NCAA will do about the messy Bruce Pearl era, so it's entirely possible that, as Joel at Rocky Top Talk put it, 2011-12 will be "year zero" in a slog back to where Vol fans want their program to be. But Martin will probably try to instill the same philosophy he learned at Purdue under Keady and brought with him to Springfield: stifling, physical defense and aggressive rebounding from every player on the court. Depending on how things shake out Martin is either walking into a very difficult job that he may or may not be up to, or he's walking into a plum situation left by a guy who was amazingly stupid to screw it all up. Only time will tell.
While neither program made a "splash" hire, it's impossible to say yet that either is a bad hire. Remember that if Damon Evans had his way we'd now be coached by the recently unemployed Jeff Capel rather than Mark Fox. I think we did ok on that one. And that's what has to happen when you go searching for a new coach and you're not a top five national program. When you have an NCAA investigation hanging over your program, or when you have a limited budget. The vast majority of college basketball hires are like these. That is to say, there's an element of risk involved. Sometimes the risk pays off, sometimes it doesn't.
Ultimately, Dan Radakovich and Mike Hamilton are asking their respective fanbases to trust them, which is asking a lot given their recent histories.
Until later . . .