- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2011

Paul Hewitt’s phone was quiet for a month, and he had a long-planned trip to the Caribbean with his wife coming up.

Then came a call Tuesday from George Mason - one that led the former Georgia Tech coach into the latest chapter of his life despite a major change of plans.

“I have good news and bad news: I’m moving to one your favorite areas of the country, but we’re not going to Saint Martin,” Hewitt said. “It’s funny how things work, because this could not have been a more perfect spot for me to get this opportunity.”

Hewitt was introduced Monday in Fairfax as Jim Larranaga’s successor. He agreed to a five-year deal at Mason, which is coming off a 27-7 season and a Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title.

Hewitt was fired at Georgia Tech in March after an 11-season run. He was 190-162 during his stint in Atlanta, mixing in five NCAA tournament appearances (including a trip to the 2004 national title game) with four losing seasons in his final six.

Few coaches nationally were hurt more by early departures to the NBA than Hewitt, who saw Chris Bosh, Jarrett Jack, Javaris Crittenton, Thaddeus Young (who attended Hewitt’s news conference), Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal all give up eligibility to turn pro.

Hewitt received a couple of calls from curious schools after his firing, which included a $7.2 million buyout over the next five years. But the leap back into coaching so soon was unexpected — even for the 47-year-old who also spent three years at Siena.

“We talked about it, and we had no intentions of getting back in,” Hewitt said. “This is honestly probably the only place I would have done it this fast. 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.”

Larranaga left for Miami on April 22, leaving athletic director Tom O’Connor searching for a coach to take over a team that reached the NCAA tournament’s round of 32 and returns four starters.

As O’Connor convened a five-man committee to search for a coach, senior associate athletic director Adam Brick suggested Hewitt. O’Connor was immediately intrigued.

“I know he can coach from his Siena days and from the Georgia Tech days,” O’Connor said. “I was convinced he was the type of person we wanted at the university.”

Hewitt’s hire over the weekend quelled some anxiety created when Larranaga departed. Hewitt said he already has talked with signees Corey Edwards and Vaughn Gray, and has started building his staff with the addition of Georgia Southern assistant Chris Kreider.

Perhaps more importantly, the hire soothed concerns of holdovers who are part of what could be a preseason Top 25 team.

“Emotions have been going crazy,” forward Johnny Williams said. “We’ve been trying to see who the coach is and wondering who it’s going to be. People were thinking about leaving, but now that it’s a done deal, everyone’s here to stay.”

Hewitt said he would look to maintain some continuity in the program, hardly a shock given the Patriots’ success.

Indeed, the most surprising thing about Mason next season might be Hewitt’s presence. After seven weeks out of the coaching game, he’s back.

And, yes, his phone is again just as busy as he will be in the months to come.

“The more I investigated, the more I realized if I’m going to get back in — I don’t care if it’s this year, next year or the year after — I don’t think I can find a situation as good as this,” Hewitt said.

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