On the one hand, Hewitt has a remarkable resume. He will be 48 on Wednesday (one year older than Larranaga when he arrived in 1997) and has won 255 games as a Division I head coach. He was only 40 when he took Georgia Tech to the national championship game seven years ago. What may have caught O’Connor’s eye at least as much, though, was his three-year record at Siena: 66-27.
Siena is not all that different from George Mason as a basketball school. It plays in a mid-major conference (the Metro Atlantic) that isn’t nearly as deep as the Colonial Athletic Association. Like the CAA, however, it has produced teams — Siena among them — that have gone to the NCAA tournament and produced early upsets.
O’Connor firmly believes that Mason is capable of continuing to play at the remarkable level Larranaga achieved. Clearly he believed Hewitt’s background at both the mid-major level and the ACC level, combined with his relative youth, was exactly what he was looking for.
That’s all good. You can throw this in too: Hewitt is never going to become the kind of cult figure Larranaga became at GMU because his personality is entirely different from Larranaga’s. He’s not going to high-five cheerleaders during player introductions or come up with sayings about being Kryptonite or being from the CAA — Connecticut Assassins Association.
That’s not him. But he’s a respected leader in the coaching community — a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors — and someone who will have the instant respect of his new players because of the players he’s sent to the NBA (among them Chris Bosh) and because of his demeanor. Hewitt will never be as cuddly as Larranaga, but he will be well-liked.
Of course there’s always a “but” line when a coach is hired, and with Hewitt there are a few. He said himself when he was fired this past March by Georgia Tech that he had been given every possible opportunity to succeed. Tech only reached the NCAA tournament three times in seven years after its run to the final in 2004 and never advanced past the second round again. Last season was an embarrassing disaster: a 13-18 overall record and 5-11 in the ACC with attendance dropping like a stone.
Hewitt’s overall record at Tech was 189-160 — decent but not overwhelming at a school that can buy at least a half-dozen wins a year with guarantee games — and, less impressively, just 72-104 in ACC play. His only winning season in the ACC was 2004 when the Yellow Jackets were 9-7. There’s no doubt that winning in the ACC is never easy but, just for perspective, consider the record during those 11 seasons of Maryland’s Gary Williams, who has come under fire in recent years for winning too few conference games. Maryland was 103-73 — a difference of 31 victories. And, just to take it a step further, Duke was 133-43 during the same period.