Georgia Tech picked Dayton coach Brian Gregory on Monday to rebuild its beleaguered basketball program, which fell on hard times after reaching the national championship game in 2004.
Gregory told his Dayton players of the decision at an early-morning meeting, then headed to Atlanta to take over his new job.
”Brian Gregory is not only an outstanding basketball coach, but he is a tireless worker and recruiter who cares deeply about his players,” Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich said in a statement. ”There is no question that he will succeed as basketball coach at Georgia Tech, and he will win by doing things the right way.”
The Yellow Jackets called a late-afternoon news conference to introduce their replacement for Paul Hewitt, who was fired shortly after his fourth losing season in six years.
The 44-year-old Gregory had coached at Dayton for eight seasons, posting a record of 172-94. He guided the Flyers to a pair of NCAA appearances, reaching the second round in 2009 with an upset of West Virginia. Dayton also won the NIT in 2010, beating North Carolina in the championship game.
Dayton had only one losing season under Gregory and won at least 20 games five times. But the team is coming off a disappointing season, going 7-9 in the Atlantic 10 and 22-14 overall. The Flyers failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, losing to Richmond in the final of the A-10 tournament.
They settled for a bid to the NIT and were defeated by the College of Charleston 94-84 in the opening round. The team is losing senior star Chris Wright and recently announced freshmen guards Juwan Staten and Brandon Spearman were transferring.
At Georgia Tech, Gregory takes over a program that came within one win of a national title in 2004 but fell on hard times in recent years under Hewitt.
The Yellow Jackets were 13-18 this season and 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 5-11. Hewitt was fired two days after the season ended with another ugly loss, 59-43 to Virginia Tech in the opening round of the ACC tournament.
Making the rebuilding job more difficult for Gregory: Georgia Tech won’t have a true home arena his first season. The school is building a new campus arena on the site of Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Until it opens in 2012, the Yellow Jackets will split home games between downtown Philips Arena and suburban Gwinnett Arena.
Radakovich said last week he hoped to have a new coach hired before the Final Four.
There had been speculation the Yellow Jackets would pursue one of the coaches who made a splash in this year’s NCAA tournament, such as Richmond’s Chris Mooney or VCU’s Shaka Smart.
But Mooney signed a 10-year contract extension with the Spiders on Sunday night after leading them to the round of 16. Smart’s team is still alive in the NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four for the first time.
So the job goes to Gregory, who takes over a program that has plenty of built-in advantages: a rich tradition, ACC membership and a large city that should be attractive to recruits. He’s had experience at a high-level program, working as an assistant coach at Michigan State during two Final Four appearances, including the 2000 national championship.
One of his top priorities will be re-energizing the fan base.
As the losing seasons piled up, home attendance dipped dramatically. The Yellow Jackets failed to sell out any games this season at the 9,100-seat arena, averaging just 6,095 per contest.
The empty seats ended Hewitt’s career at Georgia Tech, even though he is owed a $7.2 million buyout over the next five years as part of a lucrative contract he signed after the Final Four season.
”Certainly the atmosphere around the arena, the lack of fan support was certainly something that played into the decision,” Radakovich said at Hewitt’s firing.
Georgia Tech made five NCAA tournament appearances under Hewitt but managed only one winning season in the ACC – 9-7 during the Final Four year. His overall mark of 190-162 included a dismal 72-104 record in conference play.
The Yellow Jackets’ lone tournament appearance of the last four years was a one-and-done in 2010 with a team that included future NBA players Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal.
Georgia Tech loses only two players off this season’s team, assuming everyone stays. One of Gregory’s first calls is likely to be to leading scorer Iman Shumpert, a junior who said Hewitt’s firing might have an impact on his future plans. Shumpert, who averaged 17.3 points a game, could be a candidate to enter the NBA draft.
”Right now it’s overwhelming,” Shumpert said shortly after Hewitt was fired. ”I’ve got to sit down and think about it. Everything is happening a little fast right now.”