Few college basketball teams replace one Final Four coach with another. Kentucky transitioned from Joe B. Hall to Eddie Sutton to Rick Pitino, Louisville from Denny Crum to Pitino, UCLA from John Wooden to Gene Bartow.
Add George Mason to the list. Less than two weeks after losing coach Jim Larranaga to Miami, the Patriots on Monday welcomed Paul Hewitt.
His recent demise at Georgia Tech notwithstanding, Hewitt is just the type to keep Mason a perennial Colonial Athletic Association contender.
He is a superb recruiter, eloquent spokesman and respected intellect. He has an insatiable appetite for issues athletic and social. His game management at Georgia Tech was problematic, but when surrounded by a top-shelf staff, Hewitt guided the Yellow Jackets to the 2004 national championship game, where they lost to Connecticut.
That's not all. Hewitt's 11 seasons in Atlanta were proceeded by three at Siena, where his Saints were 66-27. Mason and the CAA are far more similar to Siena and the Metro Atlantic than to Georgia Tech and the ACC.
At Tech, Hewitt lost six players early to the NBA, including 2008 Olympian and LeBron/D-Wade sidekick Chris Bosh. And unlike Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina, Tech wasn't able to reload fast enough.
The Yellow Jackets made five NCAA tournaments under Hewitt but were 72-104 in the ACC, 21-43 his last four seasons. Attendance cratered and administrative support waned, making March's divorce inevitable and necessary.
But separation isn't always the end for coaches, witness West Virginia's Bob Huggins, New Mexico's Steve Alford, Harvard's Tommy Amaker, St. John's Steve Lavin and American's Jeff Jones. Each is thriving after getting the bum's rush from a previous employer and/or fan base.
At Mason, Hewitt won't have to worry about mass defections to the NBA or daily media scrutiny — the Patriots are a secondary concern in a market dominated by the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards and Terps. But he will encounter lofty expectations created by 13 consecutive winning seasons under Larranaga and, of course, the 2006 Final Four.
Hewitt knows that. But he also knows that losing only two seniors from a 27-7 team that won the CAA regular season and defeated Villanova in the NCAA tournament gives him every chance to exceed those expectations.
Mason rates ahead of Old Dominion and 2011 Final Four surprise VCU as the CAA favorite for next season. And without that stocked roster, there's no chance Hewitt, who turns 48 Wednesday, would have cannon-balled back into the pool.
He certainly doesn't need the money, not with a princely, $7 million-plus buyout from Tech that pays him more than $100,000 a month for five years — Hewitt's accepting a new job does not affect the buyout, according to Tech officials.
"We talked about it, and we had no intentions of getting back in," Hewitt said at Monday's news conference. "This is … probably the only place I would have done it this fast. I don't mind saying, I was a little beat up after my last run. But it happens. It's part of the game. No hard feelings or anything, but this was just too good to turn down."
Indeed, Hewitt and his wife, Dawnette, planned to spend this week in the Caribbean celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Instead, on Sunday he was meeting with his new players.
"I told them, 'Right now, this is your team. I'm going to try to put my stamp on it, but the most important thing is to keep the culture that you guys have established,' " Hewitt said.
"This year it's important that we maintain some sort of continuity. You win 27 games, you don't want to come in and change too much because I think the kids are comfortable. Are we going to put some wrinkles in? Absolutely. [But] it's more about making a gradual shift."
In the ACC, Hewitt matched wits with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina's Roy Williams, Maryland's Gary Williams and Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg. In the CAA he'll encounter shrewd tacticians such as VCU's Shaka Smart, ODU's Blaine Taylor and William and Mary's Tony Shaver.
Hewitt will be challenged, but here's guessing he'll win more than his share.