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Josh Pastner and the cult of coaching masochism

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps you've heard. Georgia Tech, as is their standard operating procedure, recently fired their underperforming basketball coach, Brian Gregory, after a mediocre four year run. The Jackets replaced Gregory with Josh Pastner, late of the University of Memphis basketball program.

Pastner, as new coaches do, has come in with a mandate to change the culture of his program. He's nevertheless picking up the peculiar fixations and obsessions of his new surroundings.

One thing Pastner won't abide on North Avenue? Assistant coaches who fritter away time on the golf course. As he told the AJC recently:

"My first question to anyone I (might) hire is, ‘Do you golf? If they say, ‘Yes,’ you can’t work for me, because that means five hours on a Sunday or on a Saturday. Can’t. Don’t want it. That’s for my assistant coaches. Any of my assistant coaches, if they’re golfers, not working for me."

Now, Pastner's perfectly entitled to select his coaches using any criteria he and his bosses deem appropriate. They can choose assistant coaches who only played for Lute Olsen (as Pastner did). They can choose only coaches with demonstrated recruiting acumen (this would be a good idea, FYI). They can certainly choose assistant coaches who will spend every waking hour turning around the Georgia Tech basketball program, to the rabid exclusion of all other human endeavors and pastimes. If I were a Georgia Tech fan, that's probably exactly what I'd want to hear.

Because let's be honest, there's a lot of turning around to do. As much as denizens of North Avenue like to chide Georgia fans for delusions of gridiron grandeur, it's pretty clear that Georgia is a heckuva lot closer to being a national powerhouse in football than the Jackets are in basketball. In fact, I could craft a pretty strong argument that Mark Fox's Bulldogs are closer to being a powerhouse than the group Pastner inherits. Georgia Tech hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2010. I didn't realize this until I looked it up. And it boggles the mind. Never have so many people taken so much pride in something at which they've been so mediocre for so damn long.

In fact, the NIT quarterfinal finish last season that got Gregory canned was the first post-season appearance for the Jackets since 2009-2010. Georgia made two NCAA tournament appearances (2011 and 2015) under Mark Fox in that time, and an NIT appearance (2014). The Jackets are 4-2 against Georgia since 2010, but then beating Georgia is not what Pastner's being brought in to do. No, the national title winning coach from Memphis is being brought in to return Tech to the top of the ACC.

Wait, what's that you say? Pastner's not a national title winning coach? {Consults wikipedia. . .then . . .} Huh. Well this is awkward. It turns out that Josh Pastner's Memphis squads never advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. In fact, his last two teams didn't make the tournament and couldn't squeeze out a winning record in the American Athletic Conference, which I swear to you is still a real thing.

Why then did Georgia Tech, historic basketball juggernaut, go out and hire Pastner? Because their first few choices turned them down. A Georgia Tech team that's losing its top four scorers from 2015-16 is not an appealing property. Pastner has signed on for a renovation that would make the gang from Fixer Upper cringe and hide behind their shiplap. No wonder it feels like he's got more work than hours in the day. He does.

Apparently, Pastner plans to just bust his head (and his assistants' heads) in finding a way to turn around Georgia Tech basketball. Clearly the solution when one takes on a flagging collegiate sports program is to put in 20 hour days breaking down film, and figuring out how not to run off your best recruits.

I blame Nick Saban. Popular media is replete with examples of Saban's legendary work ethic and stories of his assistants working 21 hour days and sleeping in the office. The story is that Saban wins national title after national title because he is an insanely focused football robot who eats the same thing for lunch and dinner every day so he doesn't have to waste time thinking about what to eat (true), never takes vacations (completely false, Saban vacations at Lake Burton annually and also spends time at a Florida vacation home he owns near Dabo Swinney's), and doesn't let his assistants take time off either (false, and for purposes of this article, relevant).

Research across a variety of fields has shown that workers who take vacation time are more productive when they're on the job. And let's be honest, if a Tech assistant got a text from a five star recruit while on the 8th green he'd concede the hole and pick up his cell phone.

Pastner isn't blustering about his assistants not playing golf because he truly expects them to spend that time engrossed in dethroning Duke and North Carolina. He's doing a dime store Saban impression because that's what fans want to hear. It's what recent media accounts tell us a coach is supposed to be. Saban. Belichick. Robot coach. Grrrrrrrr.

Because no one wants to be the coach who got fired because no one thought he was taking the job seriously enough. No, you can be Steve Spurrier out on the golf course, but only once you've won a title or two and have nothing more to prove, to yourself or the fans. Until then you pretend that you can turn things around by hating your rivals more than they hate you and working the hardest in a profession where everyone works insanely hard.

Spoiler: four years goes by faster than you think. You might as well enjoy some of it.