Georgia Tech needs a Keener mind on the bench

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.

155 comments Add your comment

TG

March 5th, 2009
2:37 pm

AMEN!!!! I have been saying this since he resigned last year. Keener & Warren were huge assistanst for Hewitt. Let’s get Keener back while we have the chance.

T-Bone

March 5th, 2009
2:38 pm

Well said, Mark. Whether Dean Keener is the answer or not, I don’t know. But Hewitt’s coaching certainly is not. The word is that he’s done a good job recruiting, but I even wonder about that. The bulk of his Final Four team was Cremins recuits. Bosh was a one-and-done. I’ll grant him Jack, T Young, Crittendon–so certainly his recruiting outshines his coaching a development of players.

In my book, he’s got one, at the most two, seasons to turn this ship around.

And the problem is, as a grad and big fan, I like him as a person. I think that he represents the school well. He’s not developed the players that he’s brought in.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
2:41 pm

Actually, the bulk of the Final Four team was not Cremins recruits. Marvin Lewis was, and I think Clarence Moore was, too. But that’s it.

I like Paul Hewitt as a person, too. That’s what makes it so hard watching Tech thrash about.

leland

March 5th, 2009
2:47 pm

Dear Mr. MB–I say get Keener, before fans get meaner. Your pal, Leland

Greg Pruitt

March 5th, 2009
2:47 pm

That 77-75 record includes all the early season cupcakes.
Match Tech up against the ACC and other major conference schools and his record is horrendous. Coach, do the right thing and step down. That will allow you to devote more time to your Black Coaches Association agenda. Once you are coaching again somewhere else, of course.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
2:49 pm

That’s a rhyme. I owe you a dime.

T-Bone

March 5th, 2009
2:50 pm

Thanks for the correction, Mark. I’m just a frustrated Tech fan who longs for the ThrillerDome to again be the ThrillerDome! I’m tired of the excuses. Certainly Hewitt sees what Dan Rad did with an under-performing Chan Gailey who also fell out of favor with the fans, despite the financial cost. Again, I think he has (at least he ought ot have) 1, maybe 2, seasons–depending on what he does with next year’s stellar class.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
2:54 pm

I hear you, T-Bone. It was sad to see all the empty seats Wednesday night.

WPinAZ

March 5th, 2009
2:54 pm

I beleive it’s too late. This ship has sailed. Getting Keener back may help some, but conventional wisdom allows that you never go backwards. Someone once sang: “It’s never as good as the first time”. There is much truth to that in all aspects of life. Hewitt has had more than enough time and opportunity make GT basketball competitive. His TEAMS get worse and worse, with seemingly no TEAM improvement anywhere. I have no reason to believe this incoming class, with all it’s heralded talent, will be any more better AS A TEAM, than the current edition. Why? Same COACH. Given great talent, he get’s nothing out of them. Paul Hewitt has done to GT Basketball what Isiah Thomas did to the New York Knicks. He must go, and go NOW.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
3:00 pm

I disagree. Look at the galvanizing effect Larry Shyatt had when he joined Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida. The right assistants can make a huge difference.

Gordon

March 5th, 2009
3:02 pm

I find this article discouraging. I didn’t realize Hewitt was so out of touch with reality. He has 2 McDonald’s All Americans, is 2-13 in the ACC, barely above .500 for ALL games in the last 4 years, and only sees a recruiting problem and likes the composition of his staff very much? What were the “big changes” he referred to a couple of weeks ago?

That win over Kansas in 2004 was VERY expensive. Without it, Dave Braine would never have gotten so carried away and Hewitt would be gone by now.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
3:08 pm

I wouldn’t say Hewitt is out of touch. I would say what a former assistant once said: “Paul’s the most optimistic guy in the world.”

The former assistant? Dean Keener.

Gordon

March 5th, 2009
3:28 pm

“Out of touch with reality” and “the most optimistic guy in the world” are two ways of saying the same thing. Keener knows the truth. The record is the record. 9 years is long enough to see what a coach can and cannot do. You wrote an article in Hewitt’s first year and mentioned the former NC State coach Herb Sendek, saying something like “can you really see N.C. State getting much better with Sendek as coach.” Well, can you see the next 9 years being better than the first 9 with Hewitt?

At best, Hewitt will be a problem that can be worked around with a good assistant. At worst…well you can see that for yourself this year. I’m not a negative person, and like everyone else I think Paul Hewitt is a great guy, but a 9 year record carries a lot of weight with me.

I still believe Tech could be consistently good in basketball, given the conference and city we play in. We also have a great tradition of producing NBA players. But then again, maybe I’m the one who is out of touch with reality.

matt r

March 5th, 2009
3:35 pm

The Jackets have been a non-hustle team since Jack and Co. left.

Ted Striker

March 5th, 2009
3:41 pm

If Tech can’t get Dean Keener, maybe they can try for Dean Wormer.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
3:44 pm

I disagree. Tech played very hard Wednesday night, and there haven’t been many nights when I’ve felt the effort was at fault.

And Ted, they could always try for Dean Smith.

Russ

March 5th, 2009
3:47 pm

Yes, Keener and Cliff Warren. Were a big part of the final 4 team. Things have not been the same since they left. Those two guys could develop players.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
3:49 pm

Cliff Warren left after the 2005 season to become head coach at Jacksonville, where he has done a nice job.

Dave

March 5th, 2009
3:50 pm

Couldn’t agree more. Hewitt hasn’t had much less talent to deal with than he had in his Final Four run. The biggest difference from then to now has been coaching, and the biggest difference in coaching from then to now was the loss of Dean Keener. GT LOOKS poorly coached, and plays with low basketball IQ.

GT doesn’t necessarily need Keener in particular (though it wouldn’t hurt to have him), but I echo the sentiments that the assistant coaching staff needs a shakeup. Some guys gotta go, and some new coaching blood needs to be brought in who can develop these talented recruits and have them play with good fundamentals.

I pray Dan Radakovich sees the same thing, and I hope he isn’t drinking Hewitt’s kool-aid that this team began being “misfortunate” coincidentally right after Keener left.

Ted Striker

March 5th, 2009
3:56 pm

Mark, sometimes I miss the obvious.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
4:00 pm

Other Deans: Rusk, Jagger, Stockwell, Acheson, Meminger and John W.

matt r

March 5th, 2009
4:24 pm

I guess that was a bit of a generalization on the effort level… but the Jack-led Jackets overachieved and that has not been the case since.

DTECH

March 5th, 2009
4:25 pm

Your right on the money Mr. Bradley!!!

DTECH

March 5th, 2009
4:31 pm

One more thing, the key to the final four run was a transfer in Will Bynum combined with the return of Moore who brought a nasty attitude.

carober

March 5th, 2009
4:34 pm

Mark,

How recent are those quotes? Especially the “unfortunate more than anything else” one?

carober

March 5th, 2009
4:37 pm

I guess it just really upsets me that a coach, who is responsible for a team, can honestly argue that the biggest factor affecting this season is misfortune. Great article though.

ga_tech_92

March 5th, 2009
4:38 pm

Thanks Mark. Go Jackets

Bob

March 5th, 2009
4:48 pm

Hewitt is a class guy. The kind Tech needs to help succeed and stay. Hello, DRad.

Paul always has a litany of self-righteous rationalizations on the ready, so DRad will have to exert pressure more than simple suasion for there to be material change. That will mean a collosal but necessary collision of wills.

Missing a recruiting piece or two hasn’t been a problem. Indeed, two years there weren’t enough minutes to divide between 11-12 legit players.

The problems we DO have are:
1. Too little team drills on basics which results in tentative passes, cuts and not enough team D help.
2. A climate which permits failure so long as intentions were good and there was occasional hustle. Tech is mega streaky; either flat or sluggish or on fire. Need some Paul Johnson style instensity for passion and effort to be constant.
3. Special coaching up for ballhandlers. The college game is about the guards, the ballhandlers. Our don’t develop. Looks like Miller and Shumpert aren’t developing like we must have for next year.

Come on, DRad. Not to please grumbling alumni, but to do the tough part of a senior exec’s job. The trend line’s been there too long to accept that doing the same things harder will achieve material improvement.

ExecutiveStinger

March 5th, 2009
4:54 pm

Hewitt made the “unfortunate more than anything else” quote after the game last night.

I would agree with Coach Keener that Paul is an eternal optimist and I would also agree with you, Mark, that we need Coach Keener back if he’s willing to come. However, I think there is more that needs to change. I don’t know what it is, but getting Dean back will not solve all our problems. With as much talent as we have recruited, something just doesn’t give. I still say, with or without Keener, that Paul has a maximum of two years left to prove he can still coach and make Tech a winner in the ACC and around the country. That precedent was set by Coach Hewitt himself, so to settle for anything less won’t fly.

yurtle_the_turtle

March 5th, 2009
4:57 pm

Mark, I’m tired of Hewitt and the whinning. Academics is the issue? Transfers? Early exits? His list of excuses never end. This team is horrible, yet Hewitt built it. He constructed it and if the excuses keep coming, then he’ll be here for a while longer. I don’t even watch GT Basketball any more. I’m through being angry, I just don’t care. I used to be excited about upcoming seasons. I’ve watched only one game this year from start to finish. I actually start hoping we lose games just so we can get rid of Hewitt. Ouch, that hurts!

The GM

March 5th, 2009
4:57 pm

DRad needs to make Hewitt’s position miserable and force him to resign. Until there is a real coach in place Tech’s lack of coaching and basketball IQ will continue to be exposed.

Richard

March 5th, 2009
4:59 pm

As much as I hate to say it, this editorial is 100% on the money.

Tech’s biggest need is on the bench, not on the court.

BravesFan79

March 5th, 2009
5:03 pm

Best article about GT hoops in years!! And exactly what ive been saying all along!!
If Hewitt cant see the facts hes SERIOUSLY outcoached hes not as bright as i thought he was.

I believe in Hewitt.. i just dont trust his judgment in picking assistant coaches.
The AD needs to step in this summer and FORCE hewitt to make staff changes, if not Keener, bring in a old retired coach like a Lefty Drisel, or a Bob Knight.

2HLLWGA

March 5th, 2009
5:07 pm

I agree with a large part of your article. I find it interesting that each of Hewitt’s teams takes longer to gel each year. Since the Bosh year, you can see it getting later and later. In ‘04, even though GT won the preseason NIT, the Cornell game in the middle of the NIT was very iffy. The year we started 0-7 in the ACC and then finished 7-9, but it was too late to make the NCAA. This year, we struggled at the beginning of the year (Mercer???, PSU, IUC) and have had incredibly bad luck thru now.

I think this team has the talent, but I think their problem is chemistry resulting from the lack of a team leader. Shumpert is not a leader, yet. I think we have had too many defections to have a developed our leader this year. Every year that we have had to rely upon a Freshman, we have been sub-par (I am trying to be nice). Examples are Bosh, Crittenden, Starbury et.al.

In my opinion, I would blame it on our poor recruiting. Blaming the problems on academics means that Hewitt does not know how to recruit for GT. He needs to find player/leader who is going to be here for four or five years and groom that player to be the leader. This leader is someone who is more interested in graduating than havign an NBA career. Brian Oliver is a good example of a leader who was interested in graduating and leading the team. He held that team together. The leader creates the chemistry among the players and we don’t have a leader.

Maybe a good assistant helps with the chemistry, but we need a leader deparately.

BravesFan79

March 5th, 2009
5:08 pm

For the people who dont think assistants make much of a difference….. then how come good Offensive and Defensive coordinators are some of the most important part of a football team??

yellarjacket4life

March 5th, 2009
5:12 pm

I think the main reason we made run the national title game was because of Dean Keener and Cliff Warren. Mark, as you mentioned earlier Cliff Warren is now at Jacksonville. Didn’t we almost lose to Jacksonville at home this year with 2 McDonalds All-Americans on our team?

My point is Hewitt can’t develop talent. Everyone keeps saying he’s a great recruiter. How hard is it to convince a kid to come play in the most prestigous conference in college basketball, play on national TV, get a top notch education, play in the city of Atlanta, and come to school that’s known for placing kids in the NBA???

jaxjacket

March 5th, 2009
5:22 pm

Mark, heard on the radio this am that Cliff Warren was picked as coach of the year in JU’s conference.

You know Hewitt, how bad would it have to get for him to do the honorable thing and resign without his shamefully large buyout?

gtlinz

March 5th, 2009
5:35 pm

Great article. On the money.

I believe (or at least hope) that DRad has a handle on this. The buyout would be really hard on our already strapped athleting dept and I think we are getting the company line from DRad. Hewitt has a killer class coming and may be able to overcome it all with sheer talent. I believe (or at least hope) that this will play itself out over the next year or two. Just like another poster, I have given up and do not follow the team anymore. I really used to look forward to basketball season. DRad knows he is losing the fan base. We’ll see how it goes.

Ted Striker

March 5th, 2009
5:58 pm

## Bravesfan79: You are correct about the importance of quality assistants. Coaching is intensely collaborative. Phil Jackson is credited with 9 NBA titles but it’s assistant Tex Winter (born in 1922) who taught the triangle offense to Jackson’s Chicago and Lakers championship teams. It’s also doubtful that the Celtics would have won the 2008 championship without defensive guru Tom Thibodeau.

Heck, even Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) of ‘Hoosiers’ needed his assistant coach “Shooter” (Dennis Hopper) to call the picket fence play after getting that second technical and being ejected.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
6:07 pm

I would pay to see Dennis Hopper as a Tech assistant coach.

And the “unfortunate” quote, as ExecutiveStinger pointed out, was made in the press conference after Wednesday’s game. The other quotes came from a little post-presser private audience in the hall.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
6:10 pm

I don’t want to speak for Dan Radakovich, but it’s my sense that he wants to do everything he can to help Paul Hewitt succeed.

[...] unknown posted a noteworthy aricle today onHere’s a small snippetOther 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 … [...]

Jaded Jacket

March 5th, 2009
6:14 pm

The basketball team needs to spend two weeks with Paul Johnson’s football team to learn about toughness. Hewitt would probablt benefit as well.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
6:24 pm

Again, I would point to the Final Four team. Those guys didn’t lack toughness. They embodied toughness.

IndyGT

March 5th, 2009
6:34 pm

I thought I remember hearing CPH say something earlier (along the lines of) I’m going to make changes to make sure this never happens again. I hope he does, and maybe hiring Keener is part of the answer. We really have never been the same since we lost those two assistants. Now, I want to see CPH succeed.. but I can’t accept losing like this, especially when we lose to teams that have 2 less McD’s AA. Still, I maintain the biggest problem has been guard play. We haven’t had a consistent PG since JJ. Maybe w/Mfon coming in.. hopefully Mo will pick it up, and Shumpert can play the two. I’m optimistic about next year.. but cautiously optimistic.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
7:17 pm

I seem to remember Hewitt saying something about changes, too. But I’m still not sure exactly what he meant.

chad

March 5th, 2009
8:12 pm

Plain and simple, CPH is not a top tier coach. Recruiting is not the problem. Priorities is the problem. Basketball is a TEAM game. He spends way tooooo much time on individual coaching. The offense is terrible, the defense has gone away since the final four team. That final four team played great defense. The program is in pittyful shape.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
8:17 pm

Actually, Hewitt believes this is one of the better defensive teams he has had. Seriously.

chad

March 5th, 2009
8:19 pm

where is the punch line in that joke?

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2009
8:21 pm

I don’t believe there is one.