Josh Pastner has gone from Memphis' $1.25M castoff to Georgia Tech's jewel

Josh Pastner signed McDonald's All-Americans at Memphis, made four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament from 2011 to 2014, and generally handled following Hall of Famer John Calipari about as well as anybody could reasonably expect a first-time head coach to handle such an impossible task.

The good years were ... good.

But Pastner never made a Sweet 16. And his recruiting eventually dropped off. And heralded prospects started transferring, even home-grown products like Tarik Black and Austin Nichols. By the end of his seventh season, things had gotten really, really ugly -- so much so that Memphis' administration actually agreed to pay Pastner $1.255 million to accept the Georgia Tech job when it was offered last April.

According to the contract, Pastner owed Memphis money.

But Memphis paid Pastner to leave.

That's how badly the school wanted him gone.

And now this ...

That transition layup from Josh Okogie at the buzzer Saturday gave Georgia Tech a 62-60 win over No. 14 Notre Dame, pushed the Yellow Jackets' ACC record to 5-4 and provided them with their fifth top-50 KenPom victory, which will serve them well come Selection Sunday if they emerge as a legitimate bubble team.

And they might.

And this really is an amazing story.

Ten months ago, Pastner's old bosses at Memphis agreed to pay him $1.255 million to please take the Georgia Tech job because they no longer believed he could win enough to ever win the fanbase back over. They couldn't afford to fire him because his buyout was $10.6 million. But they were willing to pay $1.255 million to ensure he wasn't tempted to just ride out his fully guaranteed contract at Memphis. That's how badly they wanted him gone. That's how fed up they were with what they, and most Memphis fans, considered too much underachieving.

But now look.

Pastner is overachieving at Georgia Tech.

These same Yellow Jackets that were picked 14th in the preseason ACC poll are now in sixth place in what is widely believed to be one of the deepest and toughest leagues in history. They've won at Atlantic-10 leader VCU, beaten three currently ranked schools -- No. 6 Florida State, No. 9 North Carolina, No. 14 Notre Dame -- and also recorded victories over the North Carolina State team that has a win over No. 17 Duke and the Clemson team that has a win over No. 23 South Carolina.

It's no longer a stretch to suggest Pastner might win ACC Coach of the Year.

He's probably the smart pick.

Which is not to suggest Memphis was wrong to push Pastner out. I want to make that clear. Yes, I've forever believed Pastner mostly did a good job and that Memphis fans did not, and still do not, properly appreciate his four-year stretch of NCAA Tournament appearances. But, by the end, things had taken an undeniable turn in the wrong direction, and a divorce was best for all sides. Everybody needed a fresh start.

That's the truth.

And this is also the truth: Pastner is taking full advantage of his fresh start.

I can't guarantee his Yellow Jackets will continue at this pace -- if only because their next two games are on the road, as are two of their final three, and ACC road games are a nightmare. But a 9-9 league record is very much in play. And Pastner would have a strong case for ACC Coach of the Year with a 9-9 league record, not to mention a respectable resume to provide the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Again, amazing story.

Nobody expected this -- not even Josh Pastner. But he really might be on his way to winning Coach of the Year in a league with four Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coaches. And wouldn't that be something?

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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