It’s been three days since the announcement of Paul Hewitt as Mason’s new head coach, and I still don’t know what to make of it. The ego-comforting aspect: nobody seems to know what to make of it.

That the hire has been met with mixed emotion and more than a touch of head-scratching Huh? is a bit of a red flag. Mason has made itself an aspirational job, and it just doesn’t seem like Paul Hewitt has stoked passions like you would expect.

It feels more like when you’re at your favorite restaurant and you order your favorite dish, and the waitress tells you they are out of it. You get all crinkle-faced and move to the next option, which could be very good, but maybe not. It is, after all, a good restaurant. But that doesn’t mean all the food is good.

So you order not with the zest you intended but with hopeful curiosity. Hewitt feels like a safe, backup dish.

Hewitt does carry impressive credentials and there is reason to believe he is the right hire.

You’re no dummy if you win 71% of your games anywhere, as Hewitt accomplished at Siena. Unless you’re that guy that hired Sidney Lowe, an ACC athletics director is risk-averse who doesn’t hire you without severe investigation. Hewitt certainly passes muster nationally, and you don’t luck into a Final Four.

Hewitt importantly runs a program you can be proud to call yours, and he plays a fun style of basketball. What’s more, I refuse to go the tired “good recruiter but not an Xs and Os guy” route. What the heck does that mean anyway?

That isn’t to say in-game coaching and adjustments aren’t a vital part of a quality coach’s makeup. They are. Rather, I’m saying the people that make those statements don’t know what that means.

Oh it’s a sexy line that gains momentum because it sounds really smart, but in reality it’s hollow. Most coaches fall into the middle of a Gaussian bell and I’d wager that’s where Hewitt resides.

All that said, the head-scratching is legitimate.

Brian Mull summed up those red flags very well here:

Hewitt’s 11 seasons at Ga. Tech were mediocre at best. The Yellow Jackets were 72-104 in the ACC during that span and finished above .500 in the conference just once. Attendance dwindled to such a sorry state last season that members of the Ga. Tech ticket office were calling former season ticket holders and requesting their presence at games, offering free or discounted admission.

Mediocrity is an awful state, because the trouble with mediocre is that it only gets worse. That’s what led to Hewitt’s firing at Georgia State and what’s most troubling to me. He was philosophically fired for three years before the actual event, and things never got better.

A huge part of getting better is getting kids to buy in and play together–it’s vital in the CAA and something Georgia Tech was notable for never doing.

Think about success in the CAA: players and teams get better over the course of a season, and year-over-year. Sure there are bumps in the road, but generally speaking you can see individual and collective progress.

There is an energy surrounding successful programs–euphoria when winning and pain when losing. Improvement is both quantifiable and intangible. It’s a passion play in which everyone in every facet of the program is involved and the improvements and energy feed off of each other. You get the feeling something good is going on, even when it isn’t.

That energy, that passion, never surrounded Georgia Tech.

Think about it in our world. Think about what it did for VCU in its two most recent coaching changes, and specifically what energy did for them this year. The Rams Final Four was not luck nor a fluke. It was the intersection of belief, preparation, talent, and execution–dabbled with the sriracha of passionate basketball.

Think about what momentum does for Old Dominion every single year. You want them in November, or in February when all the oars are rowing in the same direction and the Constant Center is jammed full? All they do is improve.

Think about what it did for Buzz Peterson and UNCW. They were supposed to stink, to a degree of wretched this year, but won seven conference games. You can see Trask refilling and feel what we all saw in the early 2000s. Compare that Towson, a team with more talent than UNCW but became that degree of wretched, winning seven fewer conference games.

Now think about Towson’s hire–Pat Skerry, an energy guy. Georgia State was the personification of doldrum, but Ron Hunter brings what? An energy. People want to be a part of those kinds of situations.

I guess that’s the rub. Someone like Wofford’s Mike Young may have been ideal. One day Russ Springmann will get a job that’s past due. If Mason’s going to scale the mountain (again), they will need that extra gear.

To repeat: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Paul Hewitt as Mason’s head coach. He may work out brilliantly, and we hope so. As one of the three flagship programs of the conference, Mason’s rising tide lifts all boats.

But the nagging thing is this: Mason carries a higher expectation than “absolutely nothing wrong,” and the pressure is there from Day One. Nobody’s buying the ACC Experience voucher, especially not 11 CAA coaches. We all know that a second-tier ACC program is the epitome of all hat, no horse.

For Mason’s sake, let’s all hope that Paul Hewitt is escaping that quagmire. Mason is a better job; perhaps he’s a better coach. Only time will tell.

7 Responses to “Can Hewitt Dewit?”

  1. Pete (the ODU version) Says:

    I think it was a good, but more-to-the-point necessary, hire.

    I won’t go “x’s and o’s” on you — not because I think it’s meaningless, but rather because I’m not capable. It would be like asking your 5-year-old son to order from the menu when your favorite dish is unavailable. I just don’t have those chops.

    What I do think, however, and I sincerely hope that your GMU readers don’t take this as a swipe at them, is that A.D. O’Conner had no choice but to go the house special — the big-name route.

    Why? Because the GMU fan base is a bit fickle. Check out last season. Mason is located in densely populated northern Virginia, it has an arena with the largest capacity in the CAA, it’s team was kicking the crap out of virtually everyone that they played, and yet they still can only pull in attendance numbers that are good enough for 3rd in the CAA — almost 25% lower than ODU’s numbers. Can A.D. O’Conner afford to pick a coach that doesn’t bring the kind of big-name cache of Paul Hewitt?

    In that fragile circumstance, I think that the Patriot administration couldn’t risk a young and untried head coach. Unless your hire is someone who can actually run the scramble drill WITH your players, the ordinary fan has no way of knowing whether the head coach is doing a good job or not. There’s just too much room for second guessing.

    Teams like UNCW and Towson had already hit bottom, and could go for young guys like Buzz Peterson or Pat Skeery. A team like VCU has become used to coaching turn over, and also has the fan base that (while they may have plenty to say that is of a critical nature) will still come to the Siegel Center for the home games. A team like Hofstra is still building their program, and Coach Cassara was something of a known quantity. For a team like GSU, fan turn out is not really an issue.

    I’m don’t think that GMU had any of those options. They’ve got quality fan numbers, but its not a foregoing conclusion that those fans would stick with the team. In other words, I don’t think that A.D. O’Conner had any other choice but to pick the house special. I think he did pretty well, and look forward to seeing what Coach Hewitt can do with that set of supremely talented players.

    On a more important note, what a great day for our nation. God bless Navy SEAL Team Six. God bless the intelligence personnel who got it so right. And God bless America!

  2. PiMpJoOsE Says:

    If the stories are true, Hewitt sorta put himself into GMU’s lap … and I’m not necessarily complaining. I don’t think we’ll know what six names were on O’Connor’s short list. Only time will tell if this changing of the guard will be a good one for us at GMU.

    But, please spare me this attendance comparison crap. While I would love to be forced to renew my four season tickets early to not risk getting any seats at all, the raw numbers of GMU fan attendance cannot easily be compared to other CAA schools. Sadly, those numbers are not a direct reflection of the product on the floor. While not intending to take a swipe at our fellow schools nor to make any ecuses, GMU hoops has to contend with tens of other things (not all of them are sports teams) that garner more attention. Even when offered free tickets, there are plenty of folks who can find reasons to not make it to a game. Hell, I’ll be pleased when we can consistenly get 75% of the on-campus residents at the games.

  3. Jim Says:

    The pimp has that one nailed, Pete.

    Trying to compare ODU/VCU attendance figures to a school like Mason that sits in the shadow of the nation’s capital, with pro sports and two BCS schools right in its backyard, is a ridiculous waste of time.

    I do agree that O’Connor went with the “house special” as you so eloquently put it — but not to satisfy a supposedly fickle fan base.

    With a veteran team coming off 27 wins and one NCAA tournament victory, Mason didn’t have the luxury of hiring a young, unproven guy and letting him learn on the job. The risk was simply too great. O’Connor needed a coach with credibility to keep the roster intact, keep the recruits from bailing and prevent the sort of nuclear meltdown that sunk UNCW’s program after Brownell bolted.

    Obviously, having a young, energetic coach looks like the best way to go when guys like Stevens and Smart make the Final Four. But I daresay that during the final 2 weeks of the regular season, when VCU’s veteran roster appeared to have quit on Shaka, there was more than one Ram fan wondering why Teague had entrusted a team built to win now to a 30-something who seemed more comfortable as a philosopher than a basketball coach.

    O’Connor owed it to guys like Pearson, Morrison, Cornelius and Hancock to find a coach who has been there and done that. Hewitt fits that description and I’m fairly confident he’ll be good enough to help the 2011-12 team get where it wants to go. Beyond that, only time will tell….

  4. metsox Says:

    NOW you have a problem with mediocrity???

  5. Welcome Paul Hewitt to the CAA | Big Apple Buckets Says:

    [...] Hoops has another take on things here. Share this:EmailFacebook This entry was posted in Colonial Athletic Association, MAAC and tagged [...]

  6. Shawn Says:

    As always: Jim is a very, very wise man.

  7. Masonman Says:

    You are all over the place with your comments. Remember, Hewitt will not be coaching against UNC, Duke, and MD anymore. We have team players on our roster, not one and dones. I could coach this years team to a CAA title.

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