By CHARLES ODUM
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 5:50 PM
ATLANTA -- The mounting losses and declining attendance finally caught up with Paul Hewitt.
Saturday the Yellow Jackets answered the long-running question about the coach's future when they fired him only two days after another disappointing season.
Hewitt, who took the Yellow Jackets to the national championship game in 2004, muddled through his fourth losing season in the last six years.
"At the end of the day we just didn't win enough games," Hewitt told The Associated Press on Saturday. "It's part of the business."
In the end, the financial impact of a half-filled arena for Georgia Tech's home games overwhelmed the $7.2 million buyout Hewitt will be paid over five years.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich said at a press conference Saturday that he hopes to hire a coach before the Final Four, which begins on April 2 in Houston.
Radakovich said he already has a few candidates on his list to replace Hewitt, who did not attend the press conference. Radakovich will be assisted in the search by former Vanderbilt and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler.
Fogler also advised Auburn during last year's search which ended with the hiring of Tony Barbee.
Radakovich said he "got to know coach Fogler very well" when the two worked together at South Carolina. He said Fogler would not be a candidate to replace Hewitt.
Hewitt was not bitter about being let go, which was not unexpected.
"I had 11 years there," Hewitt said. "I've got nothing but appreciation for how they dealt with me in my 11 years. It's a great place and I know they're going to get a great coach."
When asked his plans, Hewitt, 47, said "I don't know. For better or for worse, a lot of family time."
Radakovich said he met with Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson twice this week. He said Peterson "concurred with my recommendation" to fire Hewitt, who could never come close to matching his Final Four season.
Radakovich called Hewitt "a true professional" and said he has "much respect and admiration for him as an individual, as a coach and as a representative of Georgia Tech."
Radakovich said Hewitt "provided some tremendous highs."
The Final Four season was the only year Hewitt managed a winning record in the ACC.
As the losing seasons piled up, attendance dipped dramatically at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The 13-18 Yellow Jackets failed to sell out any games this season at the 9,100-seat arena.
The empty seats hurt Hewitt's hopes of remaining on the job.
"Certainly the atmosphere around the arena, the lack of fan support was certainly something that played into the decision," Radakovich said.
Georgia Tech will open a new arena in 2012, and Radakovich said the new coach will be asked to re-energize the fans.
The new coach will have to deal with what could be a difficult transition year. The school will have no true home arena next season, splitting games between Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta and the suburban Gwinnett Arena while a new arena is built on the current campus site.
Hewitt's successor also will have to convince current players and recruits to remain with the program. The new coach's first call may be to leading scorer Iman Shumpert, a junior who said Hewitt's firing may make him consider his options for his future. Shumpert could be a candidate to enter the NBA draft.
"Right now it's overwhelming," Shumpert said. "I've got to sit down and think about it. Everything is happening a little fast right now.
"It's tough. You just played your last game of the season. You get this news. It's a little overwhelming."
Hewitt's future had been the topic of much speculation for at least two years, but Shumpert said it caught him "off-guard" that the coach was fired so soon after the season.
The Yellow Jackets' were 11th in the ACC this season at 5-11. Their season ended with Thursday night's first-round loss to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Hewitt's overall record in 11 years was 190-162, including a poor conference record of 72-104.
Hewitt led Georgia Tech to five NCAA tournament appearances. The highlight came in 2004, when the Yellow Jackets lost to Connecticut in the championship game.
"The 2004 Final Four run will be something no one ever forgets here at Georgia Tech," Radakovich said.
But Georgia Tech had made the NCAAs only once in the last four seasons, a one-and-done appearance in 2010 with a team that included future NBA players Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal.
Two starters returned from last year's NCAA tournament team. But Georgia Tech lost sophomore forward Brian Oliver with a broken thumb, and freshman Kammeon Holsey was limited as he recovered from knee surgery.
After the Final Four season, former athletic director Dave Braine signed Hewitt to a six-year contract at about $1.3 million per year that includes an automatic rollover clause.
Radakovich noted he would not have a similar automatic rollover for the next coach.
"We are where we are," Radakovich said. "This is big boy basketball right now. We are dealing with the contract that is in place, and we will honor that contract."