Earlier this afternoon George Mason University introduced Paul Hewitt as its ninth Men’s Basketball Coach. GMU athletic director Tom O’Connor hired Hewitt less than two weeks after the sudden departure of longtime Patriots coach Jim Larranaga to the University of Miami.
After an introduction from GMU President Alan G. Merten, who pronounced Hewitt the “perfect man for the next chapter in men’s basketball at Mason,” O’Connor described the process that brought Hewitt to the school.
O’Connor said aside from himself and Merten, several parties were consulted in Hewitt’s hiring, including returning players.
O’Connor listed the criteria that the school was looking for in finding a replacement for the beloved Larranaga and told the standing room only crowd at the Mason Inn that Hewitt was the “total coach and the total person.”
Hewitt comes to GMU from Georgia Tech, who released him from his contract in March. Though terms of Hewitt’s contract with GMU were not disclosed, the terms of his separation with Georgia Tech included a buyout of over $7 million.
Hewitt went 189-160 in 11 years at Georgia Tech and took the Yellow Jackets to the 2004 NCAA Finals where they lost to Connecticut. But the team struggled in recent years, unable to advance past the second round and missing the tournament entirely in three of the last four years. The later years of Hewitt’s tenure in Atlanta were also plagued by progressively dwindling attendance figures.
But he comes to Fairfax with a fresh start and a strong reputation as a recruiter with ties throughout the Northeast. Prior to joining Georgia Tech, Hewitt was the head coach at Siena, where he went 66-27 in three years. Previous to Siena, Hewitt was an assistant coach at Southern Cal, Fordham and Villanova, building a network of contacts in the AAU circuit. Proof of Hewitt’s recruiting prowess is in the 11 former players who have gone on to the NBA, including All-Star and Olympic Gold Medal winner Chris Bosh.
Hewitt said he was not actively seeking another coaching opportunity and was actually planning a long overdue vacation with his family when officials from GMU contacted him last Tuesday.
He acknowledged that his time at Georgia Tech took its toll, but said that after talking with representatives of GMU that, “this was too good to turn down.”
Hewitt also said he is anxious to get started working with a team that returns several key players from last year. The 2010-2011 team won 27 games last year en route to winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) regular season title and an opening round win over Villanova in the NCAA Tournament.
Hewitt praised the work ethic and heart of the returning players and said he does not expect to change the style of play that Larranaga instituted, particularly since it had been so successful. “It’s going to be more of a gradual shift,” he said.
There are no plans by Hewitt to change his recruiting philosophy even though he is moving from a power conference like the ACC to a mid-major one such as the CAA. In fact, Hewitt scoffed at the implication that GMU fit the mid-major category, citing its presence in the 2006 Final Four and the appearances of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth (also a CAA member) in this year’s Final Four.
“We plan on recruiting the best players in the country,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt said he spoke to Larranaga earlier in the day and planned on talking to him again as he fills the shoes of a coach who became synonymous with the university.
Note: In the picture of current players Johnny Williams was misidentified as Sherrod Wright. It has since been corrected. Thanks to a reader for catching this error.