George Mason Basketball Makes Safe Move In Hiring Paul Hewitt, But Is It Right Move?

George Mason's hiring of Paul Hewitt to replace Jim Larranaga seems like the safe and proper move on paper, but was it really the right one?

On Monday, George Mason University announced their new basketball coach, former Siena and Georgia Tech head man Paul Hewitt. Hewitt will be stepping into the very big shoes left by Jim Larranaga's departure for the University of Miami job. Perhaps Paul can shoot Jim a text and let him know what the accommodations are like in the ACC cellar. Whoops, looks like I couldn't last a paragraph before letting you know how I feel about this hire.

I'm not here to bash Paul Hewitt. I don't know Paul Hewitt at all. From all accounts, he's a bright , well-rounded guy. Sure, I've never seen the guy smile, but maybe he just hasn't been told the right joke yet.

But regardless of his character and personality, I just don't understand why Mason would hire Hewitt.  Perhaps I am being too hard on GMU Athletic Director Tom O'Connor, but I guess I expected more from him when he chose a coach to replace Fairfax legend Jim Larranaga. This was the time for the AD to make a bold move and perhaps hire a young up-and-comer along the lines of VCU replacing Anthony Grant with Shaka Smart two years ago. He didn't.

O'Connor will say Hewitt is exactly what he wanted all along: a established, respected head coach and a leader. Everything written about Hewitt in the past week says he fits that bill. But still, this just seems like the safe move, the easy move. There's nothing exciting in this hire. Whether you were a Jim Larranaga fan or not, you have to admit the Mason basketball program did not lack for excitement or enthusiasm over the last decade-plus.

Again, I have nothing against Hewitt. I saw his Siena teams play many times at the Knickerbocker, nee Pepsi, Arena in downtown Albany when he was there. He won 71 percent of his games at the MAAC school, so you're not gonna hear me mock a 66-27 record at a mid major. But that was over a decade ago, and the MAAC is not the CAA.

His time at Georgia Tech is of course more troubling. Hewitt was a middling 190-162 at the school, just 71-104 in conference play. The Yellow jackets finished above .500 in ACC play just once during his tenure, the year Hewitt's club lost in the NCAA Championship Game. Three years ago Tech was an abysmal 2-14 in conference play. There was zero energy around the team and program. Tech games were painful to watch on television - you'd see bigger crowds at a Yahoo Serious film festival.

But enough with all the uplifting news about the new hire. Let's hear from the head man himself:

"This is probably the only place I would’ve done it this fast," Hewitt said Monday at a news conference introducing him as the ninth coach in program history. "I don’t mind saying, I was a little beat up after my last run, but that’s part of the game. This was just too good to turn down."

Hmmmmm. So, yeah, his thought process in a nutshell: "I just got fired, was going to go on vacation, but hey, you know what, Mason will be good next year (the Patriots return four starters from a 27-win NCAA tournament team), so sure, I'll take this job." 

I mean, tepid enthusiasm anyone? Paul, I need to see some pep and energy out of you. How 'bout being fired up another school gave you a chance so soon after you were rather unceremoniously dumped? How 'bout some cliched coach-speak about how excited you are for Midnight Madness? Something, anything ... Bueller, Bueller ...

Listen, I hope it works out for Hewitt at Mason. I do. But anytime a former employer spends two years raising seven million dollars in order to fire an employee, and that employee just happens to be your new head basketball coach, it gives you something to ponder before the season begins.

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