In the grand scheme, can Tech afford NOT to fire Paul Hewitt?

Is Paul Hewitt pointing to the NCAA tournament -- or the exit? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Is Paul Hewitt pointing to the NCAA tournament -- or the exit? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

My longstanding belief has been that Georgia Tech cannot afford to fire Paul Hewitt because it doesn’t have $7 million in ready cash. But recent events have subjected that belief to recalibration, and now the issue, at least in this feeble mind, has become: Can Tech afford not to fire him?

Dan Radakovich has been supportive of the coach whose oppressive contract this athletic director inherited. (Quick recap: Hewitt’s contract has an automatic six-year rollover that calls for a full buyout if he’s fired at any time.) But D-Rad isn’t stupid, nor is he blind. He has to see that interest in Tech basketball is at a low not seen since the few folks who deigned to grace Alexander Memorial Coliseum in the final days of Dwane Morrison wore bags on their heads.

Bobby Cremins arrived from Appalachian State in 1981, and soon Tech was winning the ACC tournament and even reaching the Final Four. It got bad again in the late ’90s — Cremins’ teams missed the Big Dance six of his final seven seasons — and he announced his resignation in February 2000. Four years later, Hewitt took Tech to the national championship game.

It has, sad to say, been downhill since. Tech finished with a losing record three times in four seasons. When it made a run to the ACC title game last spring and won its first NCAA game since 2005, the team didn’t exactly become the talk of the town. And now most Atlantans seem to have forgotten Tech even has a team.

For a home game against Georgia, Tech drew 6,725 to a gym that seats 9,191. For North Carolina the crowd was 8,125, but a photo of the highest-priced courtside seating area showed almost an equal split between Tech gold and Carolina blue. For Tuesday’s game against Virginia Tech, the announced attendance was 5,794.

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This mounting apathy comes at a perilous time. In April, Tech will begin a $45 million renovation of Alexander. Next year’s Jackets will play 10 games at Philips Arena and the rest in the Arena at Gwinnett. How many among a diminishing number of Tech patrons will be willing to make the trek to unfamiliar buildings? And how, if interest doesn’t pick up by November 2012, will it be to unveil a refurbished coliseum that few care to visit?

Granted, $7 million is a lot of money, but Radakovich must weigh that outlay against the price of standing pat. Down the road, how much more than $7 million would it cost Tech to keep an unpopular coach whose teams can’t be said to have overachieved since the golden run of 2004? At what point must an AD, hat in hand, call on donors and ask, “Can you spare a million to help us make a fresh start?”

There is, however, a fairly massive complication: The season isn’t yet over. Tech started horribly, losing non-conference games to Kennesaw State, which is 5-15; to Siena, which is 7-12, and to Charlotte, which is 9-10. Even after winning three of its past four games, Tech has an RPI of 136, second-worst among ACC teams. That said …

Tech is playing better. Its victory over Virginia Tech on Tuesday broke a trend. The Jackets had lost five of the past six against the Hokies, but on this night Iman Shumpert fashioned a triple double and overpowered the estimable Malcolm Delaney and, in a total departure, Hewitt outcoached Seth Greenberg.

Eleven regular-season games remain. Given the softness of its schedule and the weakness of the ACC, it’s not inconceivable that Georgia Tech, which is 10-9, could enter the ACC tournament 17-13 and 9-7 in league play. Would that be enough to save Hewitt? And now the bigger question: If you’re a Tech fan, are you rooting for a furious finish if it means keeping this coach?

Flash back to Nov. 24, 2007: Tech played Georgia in football. The Jackets were 7-4 and it was clear Chan Gailey’s time as coach was near  its end. But what if Gailey, who was 0-5 against the hated Bulldogs, had beaten Georgia that day? Would Radakovich have fired a man who’d finally done what his constituency demanded?

Nobody will ever know the answer. Georgia won 31-17. Chan was canned two days later. Two years later Paul Johnson won the ACC title with Gailey’s players. In the grand scheme, that last loss to Georgia was worth it. In the grand scheme, one more losing hoops season might be the best thing for Tech.

By Mark Bradley

273 comments Add your comment

ansel

January 26th, 2011
2:32 pm

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
2:34 pm

Kudos, Ansel.

Basketball is LAME.

January 26th, 2011
2:39 pm

Do not fire Paul Hewett! It’s just basketball. Who cares?

Save the money. We’ll need it to keep CPJ once he gets the program going.

Hiring a DC who has a clue, might not be a bad idea either.

sugarpikegang

January 26th, 2011
2:40 pm

Go Jackets, whatever Dan’s decision!

sugarpikegang

January 26th, 2011
2:42 pm

…one can only imagine the conversations that our AD is having. I’ve seen him having them around town – there is chatter.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 26th, 2011
2:45 pm

I enjoy watching good tech basketball I know thats strange for a Dawg fan , but if they don’t fire Hewitt for a few more years and the program declines wouldnt if have an affect on the caliber of coach they can get to replace Hewitt ?

Really Mark

January 26th, 2011
2:46 pm

you start off the week with a column about how big a week it is for tech basketball and then after they pull off a brilliant win last night you come back and ask can they afford not to fire paul hewitt. This may be a relavant topic but shouldn’t you wait for a relavant time such as not after an impressive home win…

MattyB

January 26th, 2011
2:46 pm

If I had a spare million, I’d surely contribute to the cause.

GT Alum

January 26th, 2011
2:48 pm

Well, the other thing about firing Hewitt. Is there any reason to believe he’ll leave of his own accord? By waiting to fire him, aren’t we just delaying the inevitable? It’s not like this buyout is ever going away. Are we just going to keep him around until he retires and hope it gets better?

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
2:50 pm

I wouldn’t think Hewitt would leave if the season doesn’t fall apart. He has most of the team back next year.

chalkdawg4

January 26th, 2011
2:51 pm

I’m an attorney and I’m not sure that the contract is even legal. Is there an ending date to it or does it just roll over forever? I’m a Georgia fan so I don’t really care – just hard to see how anyone would sign a contract like that.

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
2:51 pm

There’s no ending date. It goes on and on.

Elvis the Peacock

January 26th, 2011
2:51 pm

Is it even necessary for Tech to have a basketball team? I doubt the 13 or so players it has add any value (one way or the other) to GT. Why not drop the program. (By gosh, it would even help the Title IX statistics.)

GT Alum

January 26th, 2011
2:53 pm

Well, I meant ever leave. I find it hard to believe he’ll get a better opportunity or a better contract. Why would he walk away from that severance?

sidewalk74

January 26th, 2011
2:55 pm

Those may be the announce attendance #’s but it looked like a lot less than 5,794 were there last night. I would have guessed 4,000 or less. Based on the attendance and $ being lost with empty seats Hewitt’s buy-out is less than 7 mill. Because if he was gone I would by season tickets just to make a point.

PureEvil

January 26th, 2011
2:57 pm

Mark,
I’m in Buford and I haven’t seen any GT Basketball advertisements this year outside of the timeout ads at football games maybe the lack of attendance is partly due to a poorly ran marketing dept. at GT. Also will someone tell Fox SS that it’s 2011 and standard definition is not acceptable anymore? Last nights game was unwatchable!!!!

The Grinch

January 26th, 2011
2:58 pm

He’d be a moron to walk away from that contract. But not as much of one as the guy who drew it up in the first place. Can’t Tech sue HIM for the 7mil? I’m pretty sure a court would at least listen given the incredible nature of it. I’m a Dawg fan and I’d love to see that played out in the media.

Delbert D.

January 26th, 2011
3:00 pm

Hewitt is too young. He might not retire for another 15 or 20 years. It appears that he can stand any amount of fan and media ridicule.

Gordon

January 26th, 2011
3:02 pm

“Given the softness of its schedule and the weakness of the ACC, it’s not inconceivable that Georgia Tech, which is 10-9, could enter the ACC tournament 17-13 and 9-7 in league play.”

Yes, it is inconceivable. Tech deserves credit for playing better, and Hewitt deserves some of that credit. But in these 3 home wins, UNC had their worst shooting performance in over half a century, Wake is a once in 10 years bad team, and VT caught us on a night where Oliver had a career high AND Shumpert had the first triple double in GT history against ACC competition. Also, we haven’t come close to winning on the road. I’m willing to wait until the end of the season to pass judgement, but 3 home games don’t make up for 5 and a half years of disappointing results. If Hewitt can keep it up then more power to him – he deserves to come back.

Regarding the cost of firing him, season ticket holds pay at least $25 per seat. Tech lost 2,000 season ticket holders this year. With an 18 game home schedule, that translates to $900,000 that Tech gets back if a new coach is brought in. Even allowing for the fact that not everyone left because of Hewitt, it is safe to say at least half of Hewitt’s $1.4M salary comes back if he is replaced.

Jackets2010-11

January 26th, 2011
3:03 pm

I am going to continue to pull for Tech and leave the decisionmaking to others.
I’m starting to like this team a lot so pulling against them is inconceivable for me.
Lots of you are fed up and feel differently.
I’ll respect that if you’ll respect those few of us who stay on board.
Ya’ll check the scores lately and say “damn we beat Carolina” or “damn Shumpert outplayed Delaney”.
That must be fun.

Reggie

January 26th, 2011
3:03 pm

Mark,

Its really starting to sound personal now!!

RAMBLINWRECK

January 26th, 2011
3:05 pm

Mark, good article and you make some good points. However it is my understanding that GT has the money to buyout hewitt now as we speak. We can’t afford to further watch the fan base shrink or there will be hardly any left! We need to fire him this year regardless of what happens in the last 11 games.

Does 70-96 in acc play not say enough mark? This man is not ACC caliber in terms of coaching. It’s almost a given when hewitt is on the road, the jackets lose by 20! It’s always a close 1st half, then the bottom falls out in the 2nd. We have all seen to many times! I have never seen a coach do so little with so much!! Last year you could argue GT has 3 1st rounders because shump will go in the 1st round mark. Favors was #3 a lotto pick and lawal at #26.

All that talent and we get date raped by a good but not great ohio state team in round 2. 08 and 09 we didn’t make the NCAA either and hewitt is 186-153 at GT which is not very sexy considering what we get in return. Which are 20 point losses to a cow school in basketball. Hewitt is not the man we need at gt and it shows when you look around the arena now. How much revenue is hewitt costing GT now because so many will not come in protest of hewitt? Drad can’t continue to ignore the fans here.

This was a pretty solid program mark once and now when high school kids talk about college choices, GT is hardly even mentioned among the elite. Hewitt recruited 1 and done guys and never had a plan b. Many elite programs lose guys early but are prepared. Hewitt clearly was never prepared. I’m tired of excuses for this guy and i’m fed up with him at GT. Only a moron of a GT fan would stand up for hewitt and jump on the excuse train like we are young. How many times have we heard that or that we had guys go pro? I see it happen at many other programs and they still win at a consistent rate. Hewitt is not consistent in anything but losing in the ACC mark. Only 1 time (2004) has GT been above .500 in ACC play. We had 3 1st rounders on last years team and almost beat duke twice but got run out the gym by OSU in round 2. See a pattern?

Hewitt is like a box of chocolates if you catch my drift. Nobody knows what team will show up but one thing is for sure…he can’t win on the road and that is not the sign of a champion! 1 road ACC win in the past 2 years. Terrible

Fire this bozo!! He is setting us further back with every check he takes to the bank! You should resign coach hewitt and move along so GT basketball can once again thrive on the flats!!!!

GoJackets!

January 26th, 2011
3:07 pm

Mark, are you sure there’s no out clause anywhere at all? I know Hewitt was a hot commodity at the time so Tech had to make sure he stays a long time so he can keep recruiting good players. But if the contract rolls over and over that means Hewitt can coach for the rest of his life collecting his paycheck without trying much. Is there at least an age limit or something? Maybe he retire after 65 or something?

TS

January 26th, 2011
3:09 pm

Bradley says Tech hasn’t overachieved since 2004. He’s too kind. In fact, Tech has grossly underachieved every season since 2004. The only reason Tech made that Final Four run was that they had 2 NBA-caliber point guards, which masked all of Hewitt’s coaching deficiencies. Ever since then, the talent has been there but the coaching has been deplorable. Bad free throw shooting, bad defense, bad offense, bad substitution patterns … you name it.

I’m going to the game on Sunday night, but truthfully I’d rather stay home.

Davan S. Mani

January 26th, 2011
3:09 pm

I had the same discussion with brother concerning this issue. My take is that Hewitt sends guys to the NBA. He uses this as seminar school, helping them prepare for life in the NBA or Europe. My brother complains about not having a offensive system where you can get players who fit the “part mentality” instead of the “production mentality” of stars. He doesn’t have offensive system that the Ga. high schools coaches can prepare role players to send. He has to rely on stars just to compete and once high schools stars to role players. I also think that Paul Hewitt doesn’t have the ACC charisma of coaches before him like Cremins, Driesell, Sloan, McGuire, Smith, Valvano, Bubbas, Williamses, Holland, and Foster. Hewitt is more like Carl Tacy, Herb Sendek, Jeff Jones, and Dave Odom type. They want to coach and not deal with the outside bull.

My belief is once that the renovations are finished. Hewitt move on maybe to the pros where he doesn’t have to worry about recruiting and pleasing alumni donars.

Mark Richt

January 26th, 2011
3:10 pm

Don’t Ask Me.

I think Coach Hewitt is doing a superb job.

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
3:13 pm

Tech signed the contract, just like Hewitt. It was done in good faith on both sides.

PMC

January 26th, 2011
3:14 pm

Mark, you should be putting more blame on Dave Braine for hamstringing GT with these issues. Talk about defeatest athletic directors. Man he was horrid. Paul Hewitt is really trying his best. By far best for Tech would be for them to get hot, make a tournament run and then for a good North Eastern team make him an offer so Tech can get out of this awful contractual deal.

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
3:17 pm

The best course might have been for St. John’s to offer Hewitt its job and have him take it. But it didn’t. Moot point.

GoJackets!

January 26th, 2011
3:18 pm

PMC, that actually happened last year. I mean Tech did not get so hot but St. John’s made him a very lucrative job offer after Tech made it to second round but Hewitt said no. Now Steve Lavin’s their coach and expecting top 5 recruits next year. In retrospect, Tech could have gotten Steve Lavin.

GTBob

January 26th, 2011
3:19 pm

I am actually torn with this decision when I watch GT basketball. Do I root for our team to win, leading to possibly having an ok season and giving DRad an excuse to keep Hewitt? Its a weird feeling as a fan. In the end I always root for our guys. I can’t root against them. It’s not fair to guys like Shumpert and Mo Miller to root against them when they are playing hard and have been for a while. It has been several years though since I attended a game and I used to go to several every year. We have to get rid of Hewitt soon. I think at this point it is near impossible for him to restore the faith. We need a fresh start.

lanier

January 26th, 2011
3:20 pm

If they don’t do something they will be playing in front of 3500. Sponsers will dissapear then also.
Then even if they fire him it will be a long road back in the end making a 7 mil hit look like a bargin

collegeballfan

January 26th, 2011
3:22 pm

The fans have lost faith in the program. Hewitt has recruited well. A lot of players will return for next season and he has a couple of nice recruits coming in next fall. But there is no consistency to the play of his teams. Always hot and cold. I call that coaching.

And the program is the opposite of the UGA program. UGA is a program on the upswing. Tech is sliding toward mediocrity. As UGA gets stronger, Tech will get weaker.

Tech needs to buy him out. Or be satisfied with mediocrity.

UGA75

January 26th, 2011
3:24 pm

I am the exception when it comes to GA fans, I am a Tech fan if they are not playing UGA. I attend more Tech Basket Ball games than I do GA because of the distance, or I should say used to attend Tech games, I have turned down free tickets the past 4 years. It seems to me that there are 3 distinct areas involved in Coaching Basketball, recruiting, developing players and selling the players on your system. Coach Hewitt has been a decent recruiter, but he has not developed any players that came to Tech with raw ability into even marginal players, and worst of all when he has stars, he has been unable to convince or coach them into playing his system, assuming he has a hard and fast system. Coach Hewitt is a nice guy, but I think he is so far over his head at Tech that he would be relieved to be fired.

Gordon

January 26th, 2011
3:26 pm

Another question about replacing Hewitt this year is this: Do you bring in a new coach when his first season will be played with an abbreviated home schedule entirely off-campus (Phillips or Gwinnett)? I’ve heard arguments for and against. Radakovich could open the new arena with a new coach and have an easy time marketing that as “the rebirth of GT basketball.” On the other hand, a new coach would certainly provide an incentive to attend games in a year where going to games will be decidedly more inconvenient for most people. If Hewitt is still here and doesn’t turn things around this year, I can’t imagine what the attendance will be next year. Who would go down to Phillips to watch Tech play Niagra?

yellarjacket

January 26th, 2011
3:29 pm

My question is if you fire Hewitt, who are you going to hire? We’re in the process of trying to get a 90M bond issued for renovations to our athletic facilities and facing the inevitable firing of Hewitt and putting us another 7 million plus in debt. With that said, I just don’t see us spending the money to pay a top tier coach to come in here and turn our program around. Who do we hire?

NC State was in this situation several years ago when Herb Sendek was the head coach. Their fanbase didn’t like him and thought they were underachieving, even though he had taken them to NCAA tournament five straight years from 2002-2006. NC State fired him after the 2006 season and hired Sidney Lowe a former player. They haven’t been close to getting back to NCAA tourney since hiring Sidney Lowe.

I’m not a fan of Hewitt, but I don’t want Ga Tech to become another NC State. Many of the bloggers on here are calling for Hewitt’s firing and you can make very valid points both ways on this issue, but I never hear any of the Hewitt detractors talk about a REALISTIC choice to replace him. We can’t afford to lure a coach like Jay Wright or Matt Painter to come here right now, especially after forking out 7 million on a buyout. So who can we go after?

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
3:30 pm

That’s a fair point, yellarjacket. I’d look first to Brian Gregory of Dayton.

GT Trumpet

January 26th, 2011
3:32 pm

With the talent we bring in year after year we deserve to perform at a level high than barely making the NCAA Tournament. Make Hewitt recruit for us and hire a new coach who can coach up kids. Probably not possible but in a perfect world…

GoJackets!

January 26th, 2011
3:33 pm

I think it should be based on this year’s regular ACC season record. ACC is so down this year. Other than Duke every team can be beaten and Tech has talents to do so. If Hewitt can take this team to a winning ACC season hence possibly a NCAA tourney bid then one more season should be given as this team will be even better next year. If not, it’s better to let him go before the next rollover kicks in than losing even more fans and money that they bring in by keeping him another year.

mountain_jim

January 26th, 2011
3:34 pm

I was one of the hundred per night who watched some of those late-Morrison era games.

Back when Alexander Coliseum was still informally known as the Tech T*t, and still had it’s nipple.

I live out of state now, but watched last night on TV and saw all those empty seats. Program definitely on the decline.

Jackets2010-11

January 26th, 2011
3:35 pm

Any Wake people out there?
How did your once great program drop so far?
What is your attendance this year?
How long has your coach been there and can he bring the program back?

juvenal

January 26th, 2011
3:35 pm

hope the acc games are at phillips, can’t get to gwinett easily from here…chan still gets $ 1 more year….ask Mark & Spider & Dennis to coach for love……..

Navigator

January 26th, 2011
3:38 pm

Bradley: They don’t have the millions to get rid of him or they would have already. They are hoping Hewitt will have limited success to keep some amount of interest in the program. Money talks, and everything else walks.

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
3:38 pm

ACC games will be at Philips, plus two more.

GTBob

January 26th, 2011
3:38 pm

yellarjacket, if GT had gone to the NCAA tournament for 5 straight years then we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. We have only been 4 times in 10 years under Hewitt and we are barely even competitive in the ACC. One winning conference record in 10 years. What are you really afraid of? That we will have no winning ACC seasons in the next 10 years? I’m willing to take that risk. The Sendek situation was questionable, but it’s not really comparable to the Hewitt situation.

Mark Bradley

January 26th, 2011
3:39 pm

Five NCAA tournament appearances for Hewitt in 10 seasons, to be precise: 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010.

Herschel Talker

January 26th, 2011
3:44 pm

MB:

In the grand scheme, can UGA afford NOT to fire Mark Richt?

HT

GTBob

January 26th, 2011
3:45 pm

You are correct Mark, I typed it before looking it up. Thank you for the correction. Only 2 in the last 5 years though and only one tournament victory. Sendek won 5 tournament games in his final 5 years at NC State.

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Gordon

January 26th, 2011
3:47 pm

Mark,

So based on your 3:38 comment, I’m assuming that means we have 10 home games next year, all played at Philips. Is that correct? I also heard a rumor that Tech will offer an incentive for buying season tickets next year by giving you a better deal for the first year in the new arena. I don’t know if that means price or seats. Have you heard anything about that?