ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who took the Yellow Jackets to the Final Four in 2004, was fired Saturday after his fourth losing season in the last six years.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich said a national search for a replacement would begin immediately, adding that Georgia Tech president Bud Peterson agreed “this decision is in the best interest of Georgia Tech.”
“I am very appreciative of Paul Hewitt’s dedication to Georgia Tech for the last 11 years,” Radakovich said. “Paul is an outstanding person who has made a positive impact on so many of our student-athletes.”
But, as the losing seasons piled up, attendance dipped dramatically at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets failed to sell out any games this season at the 9,100-seat arena and wants to turn things around before they move into a new arena in 2012.
Whoever takes over the program 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.
“Today we will begin a quest to re-engage our fan base and set about to bring new energy and enthusiasm to Georgia Tech basketball,” Radakovich said.
The Yellow Jackets’ season ended Thursday night with a 59-43 loss to Virginia Tech in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. They finished 13-18 overall, 5-11 in the ACC.
Hewitt had a 190-162 record in 11 seasons with the Yellow Jackets, leading the school to five NCAA tournament appearances. The highlight came in 2004, when they made a surprising run all the way to the national championship game before losing to Connecticut.
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. But Hewitt never came close to replicating the success of his Final Four team.
Most troubling to the Georgia Tech fans, Hewitt’s teams managed only one winning record in the ACC through his entire tenure, going 72-104 in conference play.
Radakovich planned a news conference later Saturday.
There was no immediate comment from the 47-year-old Hewitt, who had consistently defended the state of his program even as the pressure mounted for a change.
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.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s part of the scenario,” Hewitt said last week. “You don’t anticipate this but you also know in the back of your mind that if one or two guys get hurt or maybe somebody doesn’t have the year you were anticipating them having, we knew the margin for error for this team was somewhat thin.
“It’s one of those cases where what can go wrong, went wrong.”
Hewitt’s firing will be expensive for Georgia Tech’s financially strapped athletic program. After the Final Four season, he signed a six-year contract at about $1.3 million per year that includes an automatic rollover clause.
The school will have to pay Hewitt about $7 million, but Radakovich finally decided it was necessary to bite the bullet given the dwindling attendance and unhappiness among big-money donors.