Paul Hewitt is still Georgia Tech’s coach. At issue is whether Hewitt can again be the people’s choice. His dialogue with St. John’s extended hope to many disgruntled Tech fans — and there are many disgruntled Tech fans — that they might not have to witness the same underperformance next season. Those folks are now in a curious position: They’re sorry their coach is still their coach.
The onus is now on Hewitt to win back his constituency. For that to happen, these steps need to be taken:
Stop the excuses: Hewitt often acts as if circumstances are beyond his control. He’s paid to control circumstances. If somebody gets hurt, coach up the next guy on the bench. If a talented player leaves after a year, find someone to replace him. If your guards can’t feed the post, teach them how. Tech people no longer want to hear about point guard Austin Jackson choosing the Yankees and baseball over playing for the Jackets — that happened in 2005, but Hewitt brought it up just last week — or about your team being “too young” or “snakebit.” They just want results.
Shore up his staff: Is it only coincidence that the Jackets are 81-78 since assistant Cliff Warren left to coach Jacksonville after the 2004-2005 season? (Fellow Tech assistant Dean Keener departed for James Madison a year earlier.) Current assistants Peter Zaharis and John O’Connor came to Tech not as coaches but as directors of basketball operations. Both have known Hewitt from his days at Villanova. Former Tech player Darryl LaBarrie was hired as an assistant last summer after stints at Campbell and East Carolina. Put simply, there’s a need for stronger voices and new ideas on the bench.
Coach offense as hard as he does defense: With few exceptions, all Hewitt’s players have defended at a high level. His offense has functioned less well. Too often Tech doesn’t seem to know what it should be doing. Chris Bosh averaged only 9.7 shots his season as a Jacket; seven years later, Derrick Favors averaged 8.1 shots. If you’re going to recruit one-and-done talents, you’d better figure out a way to get them the ball. A creative assistant with an offensive background would be most welcome here.
Reach out to fans and alums: Hewitt doesn’t appear to have any idea how unpopular he has become. (His stock response is something along the lines of, “Everyone always tells me we’re doing great when they see me in the airport.”) But Tech hasn’t done great, or even all that good, for five years now. Hewitt needs to cultivate his base — as opposed to challenging it via Twitter — through brunches or dinners or fan-appreciation outings. He can be charming and persuasive. He needs to be both now.
Offer to renegotiate his golden contract: It’s hard to ask anyone to put guaranteed money at risk, but this would do wonders for Hewitt’s image. Too many people have come to believe Hewitt is still coaching Tech only because the athletic association can’t afford to pay him $7.1 million to go away. Hewitt should go to Dan Radakovich and offer to relieve some of the financial burden. He should say, “I’ll waive the perpetual rollover if you’ll give me a five-year deal worth $8.75 million.” That would offer Hewitt a nice salary bump — from $1.375 million per season to $1.75 million — but would remove the most oppressive aspect of his never-ending deal. And it would earn him a mint’s worth of good will.
Win more games: It sounds simplistic, but it’s a time-honored panacea. Win big and people like you. Win big and we in the media sing your praises. Nobody complained about Hewitt’s offensive sets or the new contract Dave Braine handed him in 2004. Nobody was hoping he’d leave for St. John’s back then. Indeed, Tech fans were terrified he wouldn’t stay.
Six years have passed, and there’s no way for Hewitt ever to be as beloved as he was then, but he can reclaim some of those folks who’ve grown disenchanted. He can gripe less. And win more.