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Disappointing Year Won't Ruffle Hewitt

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

February 24, 2003 ATLANTA — With Georgia Tech's NCAA Tournament hopes fading, and possibly even done, some fans have been openly questioning third-year coach Paul Hewitt. This time, the fans have some good points. Hewitt hasn't done his best job with this team. Despite the youth on hand, this group should be better.

The bench, a supposed strength at the beginning of the season, hasn't provided Hewitt with anything but defense. Sophomores Isma'il Muhammad and Luke Schenscher have taken a step backward offensively, and swingman Anthony McHenry certainly hasn't taken one forward. Tech hasn't gotten much help at all from junior forward Robert Brooks, freshman forward Theodis Tarver or freshman guard Jim Nystrom, although all were thought capable of contributing this season.

Without a scorer to come off the pine, Hewitt has had to rely on his starters for almost every point, placing a heavy burden on freshmen Jarrett Jack and Chris Bosh to carry the load offensively. They're definitely quality players, but they need more consistent help from sophomore guard B.J. Elder and junior guard Marvin Lewis.

Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets' road woes are well-documented but not often well-explained. Some of it has to do with shooting. Tech's main three-point shooters, Lewis and Elder, have struggled away from the comforts of home. Without those two knocking down jumpers, Tech's offense stagnates, leading to stretches of offensive futility. Given the conference's difficulty with winning on the road, it's obvious that even one extended stretch of offensive futility can be the difference between winning and losing.

While Hewitt should be held accountable for some mediocre results this season, he's certainly caught in a bad cycle. It was his recruiting and solid finish last year that raised the expectations for this year. With a solid recruiting crop on hand and a good start in the bag, every Tech fan had the NCAA Tournament on his mind.

Now that looks impossible, or unlikely at best. So, of course, that means fans are calling for Hewitt's head, right? Wrong. No chance.

Hewitt's style — and his demeanor and personality — are the main reasons Tech has attracted so many top players. Last season, the team went from 0-7 in the ACC to 7-9 with one senior. This year's team has no seniors and just two juniors. The Yellow Jackets have created a boisterous home-court advantage, and Hewitt has created a healthy teaching environment where the players genuinely respect the staff and get along with each other. All but the most frustrated fans notice and appreciate these things.

Will Hewitt face a little more scrutiny next year? Sure. But Hewitt, in his third season, has continued to build his program. After two years of getting by on the remnants of leftover talent, he now has brought in this entire team. It's his baby, so the heat will be on soon, but this season remains a free pass Ö and it's not over yet.

Gailey: New Staff, New Philosophy?

As signing day approached, Tech's football staff remained surprisingly stable. A few weeks later, nearly everyone had a new title, new responsibilities or a new address. As is becoming more and more commonplace around college football, the weeks after signing day became a mad scramble around the Tech campus.

Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien resigned to become a position coach (read: less than lateral move) at Maryland. Special teams coach Tommy Raye resigned to go back into private business. In their places, basically, stepped Wayne “Buddy” Geis, a former assistant of Chan Gailey's in Dallas, and David Wilson, previously Tech's director of football operations.

Gailey said not too long ago that he wasn't anticipating any staff changes, but when the opportunity arose, he made wholesale moves. The responsibilities of nearly every staff member changed, with most coaches now coaching the same positions they once played.

In the biggest change, Gailey — who vowed last season that he learned during his stay with the Cowboys that being the head coach and the offensive coordinator was too much to handle — will become Tech's head coach and offensive coordinator. He will call the plays on Saturdays, but Geis, the passing game coordinator, and Patrick Nix, the new running game coordinator, will handle the traditional week-day duties of an offensive coordinator.

Why Gailey's change of heart? He probably determined that if he was going to take the heat for the team's struggles — and who remembers a first-year coach taking so much heat, especially after a winning season? — then he was going to be the one making the calls. He and O'Brien, a Ralph Friedgen protÈgÈ from George O'Leary's Tech staff, never reached a singular vision for the offense last season.

Before the 2002 season even started, some cracks were apparent. In the preseason, O'Brien said he'd prefer a running back by committee approach, similar to what the Yellow Jackets used in 1998. Later that week, Gailey expressed his desire for a single workhorse back. The point became moot when Tony Hollings emerged from a crowded backfield picture, but the divergent philosophies were impossible to conceal.

It was evident in other decisions, big and small. Gailey wanted O'Brien up in the coaches' box from the beginning of the season, but O'Brien stayed on the sidelines until midway through the year.

After Tech's ugly 17-2 victory against Duke, Gailey said he'd overruled a number of O'Brien's play calls in the second half. They chalked it up to different objectives. O'Brien, as the offensive coordinator, wanted to score lots of points. Gailey, as the head coach, simply wanted to win games. Both parties, of course, were happy with the end result, although everyone got the impression that they had very different views of the best way to get there.

When O'Brien later jumped at the first opportunity to work with Friedgen — not only taking a demotion from coordinator to position coach, but certainly taking a significant pay cut from the $175,000 a year he made at Tech — Gailey quickly turned to an old friend who knows how he wants things done.

Geis, a former offensive coordinator at Duke and Tulane, served as a position coach in the NFL with Green Bay, Indianapolis and Dallas. Gailey contacted Geis the day O'Brien told him he was leaving, and he acted quickly enough to keep Geis, a candidate for the opening at Virginia and an applicant at N.C. State, away from the opposition.

With O'Brien's departure, the days of the wide-open Friedgen offenses probably are long gone. Gailey, who gets too much credit for unveiling the Kordell Stewart “Slash” days in Pittsburgh, is best at developing a strong running game.

In his subsequent stays with Dallas and Miami, and even with the Steelers when Jerome Bettis was available, Gailey fashioned his offense around a single back. With the Cowboys, he had Emmitt Smith, one of the best running backs in the history of the game. In Miami, Gailey had “only” Lamar Smith, but he turned him into a 1,000-yard back.

It would be no surprise to see the Yellow Jackets resort to the same type of fullback-tailback-tight end style Gailey has used in the past. The biggest question is this: Does Tech have that kind of personnel?

The Yellow Jackets have injury questions at running back and limited options at fullback and tight end. Their receivers, though good, aren't big, block-down-the-field types, nor are they the type of strong possession receivers offenses like that need. Quarterback is even more unsettled, of course, meaning a scaled-down version of the offense could be in place in the fall.

Whatever their plan, Gailey and Geis will have plenty of work to do in spring practice, which begins March 14 for the Yellow Jackets this year.