Paul Hewitt was undone at Georgia Tech by more than losing

When Georgia Tech's slide started, Paul Hewitt struggled to stop it. (AP photo)

When Georgia Tech's slide started, Paul Hewitt struggled to stop it. (AP photo)

(LAST UPDATED: 3:45 p.m.)

There’s a point at which it’s easy to conclude, “It’s not going to work.” Georgia Tech had reached that point with Paul Hewitt.

Hewitt was fired as Tech’s basketball coach Saturday. Some of this is about bottom-line results. Hewitt had five winning records and four NCAA tournament berths in his first seven seasons; only one winning record and a tournament appearance in the next four. Even the greatest coaches can go through down periods and survive, but that requires creating a positive atmosphere and giving off signals that a turnaround was imminent.

Hewitt didn’t do that. He left little impression that he could do that. Positive energy hasn’t existed around Georgia Tech’s basketball program for the past few years. He would blame critics for that. Critics would blame him. Regardless of where the blame lay, perception was reality.

This was the fallout:

♦ There was the financial side: Fans stopped buying tickets. The decline likely would have continued next season at a time when a drop in basketball revenues has eaten into an already tight budget, and the Jackets are preparing to move into a refurbished arena in 18 months.

♦ There was the emotional side: Hewitt didn’t respond well to criticism. He fell into the common athlete trap of a borderline juvenile Twitter war last year with critics. His intent to come to the defense of his players was admirable. But his actions backfired. It was the strategic equivalent of Wile E. Coyote accidentally tying the dynamite fuse to his foot.

♦ There was the irritant side: Hewitt often came off as arrogant and dismissive in public, even though he actually could be one of the nicest and classiest men around. Some of my more entertaining debates came with Hewitt, even though they also left me with a headache. I told him on a few occasions he was one of the most paranoid individuals I had ever met. His response often was along the lines of, “The world is out to get me.”

The problem wasn’t merely a lack of belief that Hewitt could fix the problems — it was a lack of belief that he could rally the fan base into believing he could fix the problems.

Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich was so convinced a firing was necessary that he reached the decision before the ACC tournament. He met with school president Bud Peterson twice in the past week — before the Jackets played Thursday night against Virginia Tech. Radakovich recommended the firing, and Peterson signed off on it.

In Radakovich’s words, “We had come to concurrence on that.”

Regardless of what happened in the ACC tournament?

“Well, that’s just speculation. There was no finality to it.”

We’ll let you sort out the contradiction.

Hewitt’s dramatic fall has been mind-boggling. He led the Jackets to one of their two Final Four appearances and their only national title game in 2004. Coaches don’t get dumb over night.

In recent months, I’ve asked several people close to the program their thoughts on what happened. Similar themes were repeated. Hewitt tried to do too much. When he lost some assistant coaches, he replaced the bodies, but gave them little autonomy. He obsessed over everything: coaching, academics, the players’ personal lives. Much of that goes with the territory as a college coach. But Hewitt’s resistance to allow others to help hurt his ability to coach.

The only thing more remarkable than Hewitt’s fall was how quickly some fans and alumni turned on him, to the extent that several were celebrating his imminent firing. The whole thing became distasteful.

Guard Jason Morris referenced the “lack of support” from fans, and added: “[The criticism] was worse, having to deal with that on our own home court. Having fans going against our own coach wasn’t something we would ever support. No coach should ever have to go through that.”

Understand this about Tech: The program is not in disarray. Hewitt recruited well. He didn’t bring the program shame or embarrassment. He was devoted to his profession and the mission of college athletics. The problems that exist are easily fixable. But the first chore of the new coach will be to rebuild bridges and energize the fan base. There was no reason to believe Hewitt was going to do that.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

313 comments Add your comment

wawel78

March 12th, 2011
12:51 pm

I thought both sides have handled this well. I don’t see anything distasteful. Good luck Hewitt and let’s get Tech basketball back in the top 5 in the ACC.

dean

March 12th, 2011
12:52 pm

Huh? First? And I don’t even care about GT. :-)

dean

March 12th, 2011
12:53 pm

2nd. that’s more like it!

Benjamin

March 12th, 2011
12:55 pm

Top five finish? Great article.

I bet St. John’s is happy they landed Lavin. That said, I wish Paul well. It’s probably best for both parties at this point to move on.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
12:56 pm

I think you’re right on track, Jeff. AS a long time Tech supporter and ticket holder I appreciate Hewitt’s early years but the last few have been terrible. The firing was as much about a dismal future as it was about a recently mediocre past.

red

March 12th, 2011
12:56 pm

Sounds to me that you have some personal issues with Mr. Hewitt. You really do act like you are out to get him. Maybe someday someone will return the favor to you.

Benjamin

March 12th, 2011
12:58 pm

Regarding my “thoughts on the state of Tech’s program,” I’m going to make a blanket statement in general regarding college hoops in the state of Georgia. Neither Georgia nor Georgia Tech have any excuses at this point when it comes to being not only conference powers, but national powers, as well.

High school basketball in the state of Georgia is rich with talent, and now that kids have to spend at least a year in college basketball before going to the NBA, both programs should be on a steady upswing from where they’ve been the past few years. Fox is doing it at UGA, albeit slowly, but I do have faith in him. Tech needs to go out and land a great coach themselves, and they’re an attractive opportunity. Don’t skimp on money now; you’ve already paid the buyout, or you will anyway. Put the actual investment in and bring in a guy that can build a program.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:00 pm

So far I am pleasantly impressed with Hewitt’s taking the high road in his initial comments. Five years ago I would not have been surprised in the least but the last half decade has seen his skin and the program’s success grow extremely thin. I know many of my fellow fans were concerned like me that Hewitt was distracted and too involved in projects and programs (BCA, AAU, etc.) outside of the basketball program. We never wanted a social crusader, and we expect complete effort and total concentration on Tech basketball.

Yeah, but Lavin...

March 12th, 2011
1:00 pm

…Lavin benefitted from having 10 seniors this year – Hewitt knew it would be an arduous rebuilding job at St. John’s after this year, so why leave Tech for that, when he knew he would get the $7mil buyout this year – you gotta admit, the man ain’t dumb…

Benjamin

March 12th, 2011
1:00 pm

And red, don’t be stupid. Jeff wrote in there the article more than once that there was blame elsewhere and that Hewitt faced battles he shouldn’t have.

Don’t act like a troll in the aftermath of this.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:02 pm

I will disagree with you Jeff on suggesting that Hewitt was micromanaging too much, and was too involved with every aspect of the players, coaches, program. My friends and other sources in the GTAA suggest quite the opposite: that Hewitt’s work ethic had become increasingly lax in recent years. Perhaps he was paying attention to the wrong things, but it never appeared he was working that hard to turn around a program that he never acknowledged was falling off. Pride goeth before the fall….and Hewitt was a proud man. That can be a bad thing.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:05 pm

red: your name says it all.

Benjamin

March 12th, 2011
1:05 pm

Re: Lavin, he did have those guys leaving, but look at the clases he’s got coming in. Plus he’s got a strong staff around him. They’ll dip next year [naturally], but 2012-2013 should be a great season for the Red Storm.

St. John’s should’ve never fallen from being a winner. Home games in NYC at the Garden, national exposure with the Big East… the last regime there really took the program off the rails. The same senior laden team Lavin had this year didn’t even see postseason action a year ago and went a combined 7-13 in the Big East.

ACC HOOPS #1

March 12th, 2011
1:07 pm

Jeff is quick to point out that Tech supporters turned on Hewitt, but lets not forget that Schultz and Bradley and the AJC lead the charge.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:08 pm

The very fact that the national media is paying little attention to Hewitt’s firing speaks to two of Hewitt’s problems. First, the stature of the Tech program has fallen off so dramatically in the last five years that it is not worthy of much mention. Second, so many people assumed it would happen (and that it should’ve happened several years ago) that it isn’t very newsworthy. I do wish Hewitt and his family much luck and success in the future, but my primary interest now is in the future of the Tech program, and in putting in my season ticket order after suspending them for two years.

Jason

March 12th, 2011
1:11 pm

Unfortunately, Coach Hewitt never established a culture of winning and accountability that survived season to season and across multiple iterations of coaching staffs. And alas, he said more good things about what makes Tech a special place after being fired than I remember him saying in the previous 11 years. Still, he has my best wishes. Godspeed, Coach.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:12 pm

The AJC, Mark Bradley, and Jeff Schultz have been more than fair and patient with Coach Paul Hewitt. While Hewitt has definitely “led the charge” in criticizing the media and Bradley in particular, if you read the articles and columns over the past several years objectively it is clear that most analyses of Hewitt were based on hard numbers and clear facts. I am not a big fan of the AJC, and wish we had more sports print media competition in Atlanta, but fair is fair. Bradley and Schultz have done their jobs without getting personal and without crossing any ethical or tasteful lines.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:13 pm

Well said, Jason. I agree.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:19 pm

The Tech job isn’t as attractive as it was before Hewitt arrived, but it is still a good one: Great television market, great conference, good pay, good tradition, good administrative support, good recruiting territory, and excellent location. Now the fans can do their part to restore Tech’s reputation in the ACC and nationwide by ordering season tickets, staying positive, and financially supporting the Institute and program.

Jacketbacker

March 12th, 2011
1:23 pm

Bring in the right guy and Tech hoops will be back in a hurry. Cremins, and even Hewitt one year, proofed a winning basketball team is possible at Tech. Big time city, great conference, state loaded with talent, new arena coming, etc, etc……This will be a good job for someone.

Go Jackets!!

SecondGenJacket

March 12th, 2011
1:24 pm

First, it should be noted that the worst thing you could say about Hewitt is that he didn’t win games. He’s not leaving the program littered with academic, legal or character problems. He ran a good, clean program that upheld the standards of Georgia Tech, and the media and fans shouldn’t forget that. Time for a change? Yes. Horrible human being that shamed the school? Absolutely not.

Second, the next person on the chopping block should be Mark Bradley. Was he right to criticize Hewitt? Definitely. However, trying to make it a personal crusade to get a coach fired crosses the line of journalism ethics. Jeff, you cite your lively debates with Hewitt. On the other hand, Mark hasn’t spoken to Hewitt in OVER A YEAR! How can someone call themselves a legitimate journalist without actually speaking to the subject of their writing? Hewitt is among the most accessible coaches in the country, and I’m sure he would have spoken to Mark anywhere at any time. It shows cowardice on Mark’s part that he can’t be man enough to talk to Hewitt. I am hoping the AJC will interrupt Mark’s celebratory dance over Hewitt’s firing and give him his walking papers as well.

Jacketbacker

March 12th, 2011
1:25 pm

BehindEnemyLines

March 12th, 2011
1:33 pm

Hewitt was an empty suit who had one lucky season, everything that followed illustrated his utter & complete lack of coaching ability. He’s lucky he didn’t find a moving van parked outside his home long before the administration finally came to their senses today. Good riddance to extremely bad rubbish, although it’s a pity he was allowed to virtually destroy an entire program before that happened.

Kim

March 12th, 2011
1:37 pm

SecGen Jacket said it all!!While I have been unhappy from the lack of wins recently, I have been horrified at the way the media has berated PH. He deserves much better. The AJC also deserves to serve its readers a better columnist than a writer with a vendetta!

Paul in RDU

March 12th, 2011
1:37 pm

Jeff
Nice, well thought out and well balanced column. It is never a good day when a coach gets let go but today has been coming for a long time.

THE ROCK

March 12th, 2011
1:42 pm

do not cry for cph . i believe the buyout is just over $7 million . also,is it true the athlectic director is in the running to take over the same position at the univ of miami ?

AlabamaRamblinwreck

March 12th, 2011
1:43 pm

I’ve felt like my team has been held hostage by a terrorist for the past few years…glad the ransom was paid, and I can enjoy watching my team again…lose or win!!

Tech75

March 12th, 2011
1:46 pm

If this had NOT happened, Radakovich would have had to resign. The alums would have been more than righteously pissed.

There is a lot of truth spoken above; however, I disagree with anyone who lays any of this on the press. The press is paid to do what they do, and in some cases, to be provocative. No one makes you read it or believe it.

Bottom line with Hewitt – horrible contract, horrific performance over the last 5 years. More than enough talent and chances to get it done, and he didn’t. If I had performed like that, my boss would fire me too.

Stay classy, Paul.

Jeff Schultz

March 12th, 2011
1:56 pm

ACC Hoops #1 — I didn’t lead any charge. I’ve probably defended Hewitt as much as anybody in this town, up until recently anyway.

Jeff Schultz

March 12th, 2011
1:56 pm

FullMetalJacket — Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

March 12th, 2011
1:57 pm

SecondGenJacket — Absolutely agree. This program is not in shambles.

Jeff Schultz

March 12th, 2011
1:59 pm

Thanks Paul.

Rich T

March 12th, 2011
2:00 pm

I got my birthday present!!!

todd grantham

March 12th, 2011
2:03 pm

Jeffrey, I would agree with you. You held out longer than any member of the media on writing Hewitt off. In hindsight, do you think you defended him too long?

todd grantham

March 12th, 2011
2:05 pm

I would have loved to have seen the look on his face when you told him he was one of the most paranoid people you’d ever met!

todd grantham

March 12th, 2011
2:06 pm

Is or did Hewitt have one of those Nixon press conferences where he said you guys wont have Hewitt to kick around anymore?

Bags

March 12th, 2011
2:08 pm

I’m saddened by CPH’s firing. I’ve worked basketball camp at Tech since 2005 and Coach always came early and stayed late. He interacted with every guy who worked camp and I always appreciated that. I hate that coach didn’t deliver the wins the fanbase, alumni, and supporters wanted but he is a stand-up guy who I found to be a coach’s coach

Ray Goff

March 12th, 2011
2:12 pm

Hey, gettin’ paid millions not to work ain’t so bad. Dont knock it till you’ve tried it!

Bitter stinger

March 12th, 2011
2:17 pm

I thought you get what you pay for????????????????—guess not

still paul never poisoned 130 year old oak trees!!!!!just saying——-bammer fans are neck–turds

Montell D

March 12th, 2011
2:18 pm

hopefully, ga tech hires another African-American coach to get recruits from the inner cities. The city of atlanta is mainly African-American and so the so the coach should be also.

todd grantham

March 12th, 2011
2:22 pm

Montell, that is the dumbest comment i’ve ever seen on a blog.

Bobby

March 12th, 2011
2:32 pm

Montell, that is blatantly racist on your part. Hewitt had plenty of opportunities and did not capitalize on them. Thus he is gone. I’m not concerned about the color, ethnicity or sexual orientation of the next basketball coach as long as he wins games.

Air Zaza

March 12th, 2011
2:34 pm

Pay the coach from Baylor to come to Tech. He can get us his elite recruiting classes to Atlanta.

stevie zero

March 12th, 2011
2:38 pm

todd grantham, that is very true

The Dream

March 12th, 2011
2:40 pm

As a good a guy as he seems to be, the team would have been playing to an empty house (where ever they play for 1 yr) and funding would drop out of the bottom next year, it had to be done. I made it to 3 games this year, usually got to about 10 or so. I didn’t make the effort because I didn’t have a very good product to watch. Being an ACC team with a clean record should be appealing to an energetic, young coach. Would love to see someone with an ACC background get a look (maybe a former Coach K assistant) so they would understand the pressure playing in the premier league. I hope Royal will wait a week or two before pulling his name, but he will have to do what is best for him. Let’s prepare to rally around whomever they bring in. This is what the fans have asked for, so let’s make it work.

JSS

March 12th, 2011
2:46 pm

Well it is done in one aspect; nevertheless, the real work begins clearly because Tech can easily make the mistake that NC State and Wake Forest have made and subjugate them self to a long journey into “real” ACC oblivion.

I wish both parties well, it just didn’t work out. But I will thank Hewitt for clearing the floor and giving the ball to Will Bynum; and giving this town a taste of a National Championship game on a Monday night…

JSS

March 12th, 2011
2:55 pm

todd grantham
March 12th, 2011
2:06 pm
“Is or did Hewitt have one of those Nixon press conferences where he said you guys wont have Hewitt to kick around anymore?”

Actually Nixon said that in 1962 when he lost the race for California Governor to Pat Brown. Most of us know how that turned out!

jfreak13713

March 12th, 2011
2:57 pm

Some fans will always be angry because their lives are lived out through what they see on TV or in the sports page. They are really angry at their life but will take it out on other personalities so they don’t have to take responsibility for themselves. However, fans paying money and following a school or team have a right to expect the very best for their money and Hewitt’s teams did not give off that vibe.

I wish Hewitt well but he is now a VERY WEALTHY man who doesn’t not need our pitty. He is a professional and will move on with his life and I would suggest we all do the same with as much dignity as possible.

moboman

March 12th, 2011
2:58 pm

Hopefully all will realize that this had to happen, for many reasons. No need to throw any dirt on this situation. CPH has responded in a classy way. Lets have the decency to do the same. Its done, lets move one and talk about who the next coach should be.

d.carter

March 12th, 2011
2:59 pm

I hope you guys have the same zest to Fire Saint Mark Richt of Georgia who hasnt done jack **** at Georgia with just as much talent and has no hold on the program what so ever. At least hewitt made it to the big game… or will you give me the same excuses as you give me when i say that the great Matty Ice has never won a playoff game…..ummmmmmmmm