Monday, August 1, 2011
What to expect from Georgia Tech
By Eamonn Brennan
When programs fire their coaches, it's usually thanks to a simple formula: expectations versus results.
In 2004, then-Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt drastically overachieved expectations. The contract he received as a result of that Final Four appearance was the contract of someone expected to be around for quite some time. (I'll still never understand why Tech -- or any program -- would give a coach a contract that automatically extends itself to seven years after each season, but let's not trouble ourselves with that today.)
Then, Hewitt spent the next seven seasons undershooting the lofty expectations he himself had forged. He was always able to recruit, but the results rarely followed, and after the last four seasons -- a stretch that included just one NCAA tournament appearance and ended with 2011's ugly 13-18 finish -- Georgia Tech bit the bullet and bought Hewitt out of his massive $7 million deal.
You know all this. You also know what happened next. Georgia Tech, saddled by that buyout and expenses related to a wave of new facilities, did something the writers of romantic comedies would find downright abhorrent: It settled. In other words, it hired Dayton coach Brian Gregory.
Georgia Tech disputes this version of events, and has said that it knew what it wanted to pay a quality coach -- in Gregory's case, about $1 million per year with incentives -- and that's what it did. Fair enough. However the hire is framed, the end result is the same. When your new coach's former fans are making signs cheering his exit, you probably didn't land the hottest name on the market.
But the question is not whether Georgia Tech should have hired someone else. It's what Georgia Tech fans should expect from its new head coach moving forward. Where do you set the bar for success? What will make fans happy? And can Gregory follow through?
This is not just as easy as looking at Gregory's record at Dayton, which has its pluses and minuses. One plus: In 2008, Gregory took Dayton to its highest ranking (No. 14) in 40 years. One minus: His teams only made the NCAA tournament twice.
In recent years, Flyers fans grew weary at what they saw as disappointing performances and NIT finishes. ("Sunny with a chance of NIT." Ouch.) For all those complaints, though, Gregory did manage to land a few four star-caliber players in his time, including Chris Wright and more recently Juwan Staten, who left the team after clashing with Gregory this spring.
If you can recruit to Dayton -- which has great facilities and fans but a tough location in a crowded Ohio environment -- you should be able to recruit to an ACC program in Atlanta. But at what level? Can you compete with the best teams in the conference? Can you stay steady on the ACC's second tier? After years of watching Hewitt's talented teams play below their potential, would Tech fans adopt a squad that might lack in talent but maximizes its ability? Or is the common knock on Gregory -- good recruiter but lacking in other areas -- a reprise of the Hewitt era?
These are tough, big-picture questions, and I don't have the answers. I'd be more interested in what Georgia Tech fans think. Where do you want the program to be? Were you skeptical of the Gregory hire? Have you overcome your skepticism? Why or why not?
Put more simply: What do you expect from Georgia Tech basketball? In 2011-12, what should you expect?