I understand what Paul Hewitt is trying to do. He’s trying to foment belief in a team that, after losing four times in six games, has cause to doubt. But I’m not sure Twitter is the vehicle for that. I’m not sure a coach who’s under .500 in a diluted ACC with three McDonald’s All-Americans in his first five needs to be daring Georgia Tech fans to prove their fanhood.
Tech folks have been patient with Hewitt. He hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2005. He has had four losing seasons in his first nine years on the job. He has a losing record against Georgia. Since Tech played for the national championship in April 2004, his record is 96-86 overall and 35-58 in ACC regular-season play. At a place that cared deeply about the sport, he’d have been gone long ago, his $7 million golden parachute absorbed as the cost of doing business in big-time basketball.
But he’s still here. Does he have critics? Yes. (I know. I’m one.) Is he booed when introduced before home games? Not so you’d notice. (And I try to notice.) But when a coach challenges his constituency on his Twitter account, it’s a signal he’s feeling the heat. A sampling of Hewitt’s latest Tweets, all offered in the past three days:
• Clearly we are playing our best basketball of the season. Don’t believe what you read from the “experts.” Believe what you see.
• As we are coming to the latter part of the season, now is not the time to be judgmental. You all need to come out and support this team.
• Are you a critic or a supporter of this team? Supporters will continue to watch this team fight.
• To you critics: when athletes say some of the things you say, then you condemn them as quitters. Are you quitting?
• I believe in this team!
And here are three that arrived Thursday afternoon:
• Our team deserves to be treated truthfully. This young basketball team is on the verge of earning an NCAA [berth].
• We realize we still have work to do but no one should ever question the effort, intelligence, or dedication of our program.
• Their effort and level of commitment should never be questioned.
I don’t think anyone is questioning the team. (Questioning the coach, yes. Is that not allowed?) But saying the Jackets deserve “to be treated truthfully”? Has someone miscalculated the record? Is Tech really 25-2?
And that tired old bit about this being a “young basketball team”? Tech starts a fifth-year senior, a junior and a sophomore. Its sixth man is a senior. In contemporary college basketball, that’s a fairly seasoned bunch.
But that’s not the way Hewitt sees it. Before practice Thursday, he told reporters that coverage of his team has been reduced to “cyberbullying.” He also claimed he hadn’t read the AJC since 2005 because the team that went to the ACC finals and lost to Louisville in Round 2 of the NCAA tournament was “absolutely bashed.” (Given that I covered the ACC tournament and the loss to Louisville, I assume he was referring to me.)
He also contended that the past 3 1/2 games have been the best stretch of Tech basketball in two years. Yet Tech has won only once in that span, and to claim that this team is better than last season’s isn’t saying much. Those Jackets were 2-14 in ACC play.
I should stipulate that, for as critical as I’ve been regarding Hewitt, he and I have never had a heated exchange. I was surprised he took umbrage at a question after Tech nearly wasted a 16-point lead against North Carolina State. He’s usually the essence of professionalism. But he has to know that this season is his last real chance to win back those who’ve lost faith in his stewardship. That said, do you win anyone back via a dare?
Some folks laughed when, after losing at Maryland at the horn Saturday, Hewitt said he believed Tech was on the verge of something big. I didn’t. I remember how I laughed six years ago when, after a home loss to North Carolina State that took the Jackets’ ACC record to 6-7, Hewitt said Tech was “playing as well as anyone in the country.” But seven days later it won at Duke, and a month later it was in the Final Four.
Former assistant Dean Keener once told me: “You know Paul — he’s the most optimistic man in the world.” And I submit there is reason for Tech to keep the faith as it heads into March. It is playing better. It could well have a nice tournament run. But it isn’t “critics” and “experts” who have lost seven of the past 14 games. It’s Tech, as coached by Hewitt.
Believe what you see, Tweeted GTCoachHewitt, but I’m not sure he means that. Because some Tech rooters might say, “Know what I see? I see a coach who’s 6-7 with the most talented team in his league asking why I’m not rooting harder.”
That’s the trouble with a dare. Ask someone to look hard at your program and that someone might decide your program isn’t half what it should be. If several such someones band together, it might not be your program much longer.