Since playing for the 2004 national championship, Georgia Tech is 77-75. This will be the Jackets’ third losing season in their past four. They’ve made a postseason tournament – and here we include the low-rent NIT – once since 2005. There’s more wrong than just bad luck. There’s mismanagement afoot.
Tech beat Miami on Wednesday. It was the Jackets’ first victory since Jan. 31, their third of calendar 2009. Nobody expected this to be a Top 25 team, but it shouldn’t have been this feeble. Tech starts two McDonald’s All-Americans but clinched last place in the ACC before February was done.
Miami, by way of contrast, has no McDonald’s All-Americans but is 17-11 and still retains an outside chance of making the Big Dance. Tech, which is 11-17, should have been no worse than that.
After Wednesday’s game, Paul Hewitt said: “This team has been unfortunate more than anything else. It hasn’t been a bad team.” It is, sad to say, such denial that holds Tech back. You don’t go from No. 2 in the country to last in a 12-team league without systemic malfunction.
Tech is undercoached. It doesn’t have North Carolina’s depth of talent, but it has enough to have been competitive. But, since taking an unassuming group to the Final Four, Hewitt has consistently gotten less from more. His 2006-07 team, which lost its first games in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, included four players now working in the NBA.
Hewitt admitted Wednesday he has made mistakes, but only in recruiting. “It’s always recruiting,” he said, and he mentioned Mohammed Faye, who transferred to SMU. Only it isn’t always recruiting. Tech keeps losing because it hasn’t developed players the way a big-time program must.
Being Hewitt, he hopped on his hobbyhorse. “We’ve had to adjust to tougher academic standards,” he said. “I tried to fight the APR [the NCAA’s academic progress report] hard because I felt it could have an effect on our program. But our academics are now in the best shape since I’ve been here. We had six guys on the dean’s list last semester.”
Other ACC schools, however, face similar scholastic rigors. For a coach in his ninth season at the Institute to use academics as an excuse – especially when the same coach took Tech to the NCAA title and was essentially handed a lifetime contract thereafter – is disingenuous. Hewitt knows what it takes to win at this school. He just hasn’t done it lately.
Owing to his recruiting class and his $7 million buyout, Hewitt is going nowhere, but potential help was close at hand Wednesday, sitting in the press section. Dean Keener was Hewitt’s chief assistant his first four seasons here, and he left after the Final Four to coach James Madison. Keener resigned last year and has moved back to Atlanta, where he’s working in the private sector.
Would Keener rejoin Hewitt’s staff if asked? “I wouldn’t even want to begin a dialogue [with a reporter] on that,” he said, and then he professed his relish for his new job, which affords the chance to be around his young children. Still, Keener coached for 20 years, and the itch never fully leaves, does it?
Asked about possible changes, Hewitt said he likes the composition of his staff very much, and certainly Tech’s heralded recruits are a testimony to assistants John O’Connor and Charlton Young and Peter Zaharias. But the best staffs forge a balance between coaching and recruiting, and the Jackets have veered out of plumb.
Put simply, Tech needs Dean Keener as much as it needed Derrick Favors. Maybe even more.