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.