Question: Over the 11 years Paul Hewitt worked at Georgia Tech, which program had more losing seasons — his or Georgia’s?
If anyone still needs to know why Hewitt had to go, there it is: His teams finished under .500 five times in 11 tries, and it’s tough for a program in a big-time conference to have even one outright losing season. Georgia has had four over that span, and that’s counting the 2002-2003 season that is now recorded as 0-8 after NCAA sanctions but was 19-8 on the floor. That’s a Georgia program that worked under three different coaches (four if you count interim Pete Herrmann) and beneath the thundercloud of an NCAA investigation and subsequent probation.
Scoreboard: UGA four losing seasons (one after forfeits); Tech five losing seasons. Amazing.
Hewitt had made a big deal of his five NCAA appearances lately, saying (incorrectly) that only Duke and North Carolina had been to the Big Dance more often over his decade-plus-one at Tech. (Actually, Maryland made the NCAA seven times and Wake Forest six.) And a school might have taken those five berths and been happy with them had the other seasons not been so wretched. But with Hewitt there was no middle ground: He either won big enough to get into the Big Dance or he didn’t win at all.
In 2008-2009 Hewitt went 2-14 in ACC regular-season play with a roster that included two McDonald’s All-Americans (Iman Shumpert and Gani Lawal), a useful big man in Zachery Peacock and the scorer Lewis Clinch. This year Hewitt went 13-18 with Shumpert and five members of a recruiting class ranked fourth-best in the nation by Rivals.
Yes, Derrick Favors was already gone to the NBA, but that’s the way of college basketball: If you’re going to recruit one-and-dones, you have to make hay while they’re there. Instead Hewitt missed the NCAA in 2002-2003 with Chris Bosh — that season marked Tech’s only postseason NIT appearance under this coach — and failed to win an NCAA tournament game in 2006-2007 with Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton. And last year the Jackets somehow lost 13 games with Favors, who was taken third overall in the NBA draft.
There are some folks who will say the doings of spring 2004 have been rendered a fluke by subsequent events. I have never and will never say that. There was coaching involved in that Final Four run, a bunch of it. I thought then that Georgia Tech had on its hands a man capable of being — dare I say it? — the next Krzyzewski. But Tech under Hewitt was never the same, not even in 2004-2005 with six of its top eight returning from the team that reached the NCAA championship game. And to this day I don’t know why it wasn’t.
Hewitt seemed to have it all: He was smart and he was good with the media and great with recruits. He made the NCAA tournament three times in his first five seasons. The rest, alas, was mostly silence — four losing seasons in his final six and a falloff in attendance that made Tech basketball seem small-time for the first time since Dwane Morrison was the coach.
Many people have asked: Why in the world would a right-thinking school hand a coach the sort of contract Tech gave Hewitt in April 2004? In hindsight that contract has come to seem the worst in collegiate history, but you know what? Had I been Dave Braine or Wayne Clough back then, I’d have done the same. Because I could never have imagined that a coach of such conspicuous gifts would fail so utterly.
He had it all, and then it all went away. And now, six years after signing him to a lifetime contract, Georgia Tech is paying Paul Hewitt to go away. It needed to happen, yes. But that doesn’t make this strange story any less sad.
By Mark Bradley