The reaction from Georgia Tech fans was not hard to predict. The relief, the resolved angst, the catharsis, all summed up in one tidy word:
That was the subject of the first comment on this post at From The Rumble Seat, a Georgia Tech fan blog, and it was no doubt the reaction most Yellow Jackets diehards had the moment they heard the news this morning. After 11 years, five NCAA tournament appearances, one NCAA runner-up finish, a massive contract extension, a 72-105 record in the ACC and a disappointing six-season stretch that saw Georgia Tech miss the postseason in four seasons, coach Paul Hewitt has officially been fired.
Yes, Georgia Tech finally decided to bite the bullet and pay the buyout necessary to send Hewitt packing. That terms of Hewitt's buyout aren't immediately available, but Hewitt is likely to receive up to $7 million from Georgia Tech in the offing.
"Hey," you might be saying, "Isn't that a lot of money to pay a coach who won't be working for you anymore?" Yes, dear reader, it is. But Georgia Tech has only itself to blame for the number. Back in the halcyon days following Georgia Tech's 2004 run to the Final Four, the school signed Hewitt to a lucrative five-year deal with a rollover provision baked in. That rollover clause meant Hewitt's contract automatically extended by one year after each passing season. It also means Hewitt always had at least six years on his contract, no matter how much time passed.
From the contract itself:
It is the intention of the Parties to create an automatic “rollover” provision so that the Term of this Agreement will always have six (6) years remaining after the automatic rollover occurs. Commencing April 15, 2005 and on April 15th of each year thereafter, the Term of this Agreement shall be automatically extended by one (1) additional year so that, on April 15th of each year, the Term of this Agreement shall be six (6) years unless the Association determines that an extension rollover not be made and notifies Hewitt of its decision in writing not less than thirty (30) days prior to April 15th in any year during the Term.
In a way, Hewitt could have been Georgia Tech men's basketball coach for life. "How long is your contract?" "Six years." "How about now?" "Yep, still six years." It's kind of crazy, but that's what former Georgia Tech athletic director Dave Braine, perhaps blinded by the Jackets' 2004 run to the national title game, agreed to in 2005.
The flip-side of this agreement gave Georgia Tech the power to fire Hewitt whenever it wanted ... provided the Yellow Jackets also agreed to pay the remainder of Hewitt's contract. In other words, if Georgia Tech wanted to get rid of its head men's basketball coach, it had to buy Hewitt out of six years and $1.3 million per. If there is a Hall of Fame for agents, Paul Hewitt's deserves immediate induction.
Rumblings about Hewitt's job security are nothing new. Many fans grew anxious in 2008 and 2009 following back-to-back losing seasons. Plenty of fans griped before, during and after last year's talented Jackets, who boasted the No. 3 overall pick in forward Derrick Favors, limped to a second-round loss in the NCAA tournament. Hewitt publicly scolded fans on Twitter last season, calling them "judgmental" and chiding them for their lack of support as Tech was on the verge of a berth to the NCAA tournament. Needless to say, Georgia Tech fans didn't appreciate the lecture.
But the vagaries of Hewitt's massive buyout always squelched those complaints. Could a state school really afford to pay its coach $7 million-plus just to go away? Could a season ever be so bad as to justify that price?
Apparently, the answer is yes. Thanks to its truly putrid offense, Georgia Tech went 13-18 this season and won a mere five conference contests. But for a few glimpses here and there, Hewitt's team was never all that competitive, even in a down ACC with plenty of beatable teams. The result was Georgia Tech's third losing season in its past four.
And so the camel's back was broken. Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich decided to bite the bullet, pay Hewitt his buyout, and open what he called an immediate national search for a replacement.
Who will that replacement be? It's way to early to say. The only recent rumblings have surrounded Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, but Smith recently told reporters he planned to finish his career in Minneapolis (and his lawyer backed it up by promising Smith would sign a contract extension this summer) so it seems unlikely the Gophers coach would consider a move to Atlanta. But Tech is a big job, a quality program in a high-profile conference, and it should draw interest from plenty of noteworthy candidates in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, Georgia Tech fans are done waiting it out. Hewitt might have been fired two years ago under normal circumstances, and that ongoing, inexorable annual question created no small amount of angst among supporters of the Yellow Jackets.
Now, Tech fans can move on. Hewitt got his buyout. A new coach -- whose contract will not include a rollover clause; you can bet on that -- will arrive soon. And, yes, Georgia Tech's basketball program looks to the future with something resembling optimism. Finally.