Paul Hewitt says execution, not effort, has been the problem

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John Feinstein wrote a detailed piece on Paul Hewitt and George Mason’s struggles this season for the Washington Post. It went live shortly after the loss at Rhode Island yesterday afternoon and brings up some points that I know people on here have been discussing for awhile. Is it more the players that are the problem or the head coach? A quote from Hewitt on the team this season:

“The thing is I like these kids a lot,” Hewitt said. “They’re a good group when it comes to listening and trying to learn. I’ve had teams that struggled that weren’t that way to the point where I was on the brink of thinking I needed to find something else to do.

“This is nothing close to that. In fact, since the Oklahoma game [an 81-66 loss on Dec. 8], I can only think of one half where we didn’t play well. Against Oklahoma, we didn’t compete and I was upset with that. Since then, they’ve competed well. We just haven’t gotten the results.”

To honest I think it’s both elements that are the problem. This team has talent, without question, but enough to beat the top of Atlantic 10 conference or other top 100 RPI teams? It’s painfully obvious now that they can’t just get by on talent alone and that we have to hold the players accountable to some degree. We’ve seen seniors, two of which are in their fifth year, making one costly mistake after another in late game situations. Everyone expects more from veteran players. I doubt anyone would argue it’s easy to win with your veterans playing like that.

But on the flip side of that, is the head coach putting his players in the best situation in order to win? What I mean is, is Hewitt running the best system to get the most out of the players he has, or is he trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? I don’t have the answer to that but the results have spoken for themselves recently. They seems to be so much disarray on the court, whether it’s the type of defense they are running or the player rotation.

I will admit though, that the last of the Jim Larranaga holdovers aren’t doing him any favors recently. Sherrod Wright, Bryon Allen, and Johnny Williams have all struggled at different points this season and Jon Arledge is seeking a transfer after playing in just one game. The  other three have just not been the type of leaders on the court that I had thought they would have been in their final season here. I’m sure their presence in the locker room is strong as leaders but their production on court can easily be linked to the team’s 7-11 record.

Does reading this article from Feinstein change your opinion on Hewitt and the team’s current situation? Personally I feel like it’s easy for any coach to stay things like ‘well we just aren’t executing’ after a loss. And let’s be fair, Hewitt has had trouble winning consistently long before he arrived in Fairfax. Have they had some bad luck in the last couple of games? Sure. But take yesterday’s game for instance, it never should have went to overtime in the first place. The Patriots were in control for a long period of time and again blew a lead down the stretch. The UMass game was very similar and when things like that have become a recurring theme it’s difficult to blame a few players’ mistakes. To sum it up I do think the players are giving full effort and while they definitely lack mental toughness, I think they also still lack direction and an overall game plan that works for them.

[Photo by Bill Bride]

  • Andy Minor

    Execution is the coach’s responsibility, plain and simple. It’s his job to organize the talent and effort of the players and put them in a situation to win. If the players weren’t executing because of a lack of effort or attitude problem, then it would be something different, but in my mind if you don’t manage your players to win then you’re a bad manager/coach/boss what have you.

    I like Hewitt–I think he’s a nice guy, the players seem to like him, but something is off in his coaching scheme. He’s been at it this way for about 10 years now so I don’t expect it to change. Go read the Georgia Tech fan forums from about 5 years ago…it’s uncanny how many of the mistakes he was making down there he’s making up here.

  • PatDan

    I have to say I think it’s ridiculous that he is basically calling out his players here. He should be taking more the blame based on his recent track record. He’s almost acting as if they are coming off back to back tournament appearances and that this is such an underachieving squad. So done with this guy!

    • tommy2

      I agree with you. He’s saying they are trying and they want to learn. Doesn’t that point to his coaching staff’s ineffectiveness at teaching and his process for achieving improvement? Also, Ryan, you seem to be suggesting Larranaga’s recruits would be the same players today if they were coached the past three years by a coach with a system and a track record for making players better. It’s not about “the players doing him any favors.” Hewitt is accountable for what you see on the court, and for that matter, who is on the court. Look at Luke Hancock. He went from obscurity to an outstanding sophomore, thanks to Coach L and a system (and Luke’s own hard work), to the Final Four’s MOP, because he went to another great coach/teacher/with a system, in Rick Pitino. It starts and ends with Hewitt. The talented crop of players coming in will help this team, I’m sure, but in the end, to compete effectively in the A-10, GMU is going to need a different Coach.

      • gmuhoops

        I don’t disagree with anything you said. Still though Sherrod Wright for instance isn’t the star we all thought he’d turn out to be and that’s really hurt them. Yes I do think some of it has to do with coaching but I also think he just isn’t all that special. But I could be wrong and this could be something we see happen again with some of his own recruits coming in.

        • tommy2

          Cool, but what I’m saying is, Sherrod COULD be a star on a team where players understand their role and execute the system. I’m not saying he would be, but it is the elite players who are stars irrespective of what the team does. EVERY SINGLE TEAM keys on Sherrod this year because they know if they shut him down, Mason will struggle. So, now he’s pressing and when he’s open, he’s in a hurry. It’s a mess. And for all those thinking they’ll be ready come A10 tourney time, I applaud the optimism.

          • StopWearingPurple

            I agree. Sherrod is a very talented and hard working player. I blame Hewitt for not developing him more.

            I don’t think Hewitt is calling out his players. I think he was asked about their effort and he was responding to that question.

  • gamoo79

    Feinstein also said that on the inbounds play against UMass, Mason had practiced for that but 3 of the players weren’t in the position thay were supposed to be in and a 4th player was only partly in position. I put that on the players. They are D-1 players. Get in position!
    You may say Hewitt didn’t spend enough time instructing the team on the play, but 1) we don’t know that, and 2) I coached my son’s teams in youth league sports for 10 years, and even they could run a play after a few run throughs.
    Hewitt may only be an average coach, but I have to put a lot of this on the players. I just dont think they are up to A10 par. Heck, last year they weren’t even up to CAA par.
    Hewitt may never lead us to greatness, but i’m willing to believe that when he gets all his own guys in here we will be much better.

    • GMUPATS74

      Well here’s hoping that’s exactly what happens.

      • Kyle Stegner

        Julian Royal probably is going to be his favortie player on the roster coming next season. Got the guy to commit to Georgia Tech and even influenced him enough to transfer to Mason. Hopefully he is indeed a four star stud as all the recuiting websites say he is. Also getting a 6-10 three star center next season. Optimism for next season, not this one though.

        • GMUPATS74

          Don’t forget the other 2 recruits. They’re not chop liver neither.

          • Kyle Stegner

            Yeah your right. On paper its says 2 star but these two seem to be working on thier outside mid range shots too according to the previous post. I wonder though…..just where exactly will Vaughn Gray fit into this. It seems like next season none of Larranaga’s last two recruits will see any minutes if this team is loaded with Hewitt’s own guys.

    • upside2013

      Glad GMU is in the A10 and is a quantum leap to compete at this level. I think that they are going to need play better and smarter in order for GMU to compete at this level. The University will need to sink more resources into the program if they plan to compete at this level and reach the NCAA tourney again. The schedule this year with Iowa state, Oklahoma, VCU,UMAS and St Louis is way above regular season teams I have known in 20 years, The good news is that GMU is staying in games and the bad news is that there losing games as a result of breakdowns in fundmentals and mental mistakes (sign of a lousy team). I am not enjoying the season hopefully in the long run GMU will emerge as program to be reckoned with again.

      • Kyle Stegner

        Dr. Angel Cabrera attended the CAA tournament last year. I think its a sign that he understands the role sports can have on a school’s ability to get its brand name out. A young school like Mason can’t just rely on academics to get thier name on the map. Need sports to provide the catalyst.
        Tom O’ Connor needs to get with the agenda here. He is the one that didn’t want George Mason to become a “one trick pony” or whatever after the 2006 final four run. He is also the reason Larranaga left. (The man that put Mason on the map)

        • upside2013

          Tom O’Connor is the man who hired Larranaga and GMU has other non revenue sports like track and field for example that our nationally ranked every year. No matter what Larranaga was offered he may have wanted to leave to warmer climes!

          • gamoo79

            Of course basketball is our marquee sport, but how many of us follow/support the accomplishments of our other teams? Confession…I don’t. But it was great to see us beat regular season champ VCU in the A10 soccer tourney and actuallly win the tourney in our first year in the A10.

  • G-n-G

    What I take away from that article is: Hewitt has pretty sound coaching principles (including encouraging players to visualize how they will act in tough situations, Coach L is a big advocate of that), that there is no dissent on the team, that he has not “lost” the team, and that the team is giving it everything it has.

    It’s coming down to a few crucial plays and Mason tends to find itself on the losing end, except for in the St. Mary’s game. Some of this is the law of averages–recall that the Orioles had an unbelievable record in 2012 in 1-run games, but that reversed in 2013. Some of this is confidence–in the URI game only Patrick and Jalen seemed to want to make plays at the end of regulation and overtime. (David Houck – Good question. The raw talent is comparable, but the mental toughness to play competitive teams game after game is the difference between a CAA-level player and an A-10 one. BA said as much in the interview after the UMass game.)

    Hewitt also seems to have a bit of the philosophy that Brad Stevens articulated after the game below–that whether your team hits the final shot or not doesn’t define whether it’s a good or bad team.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNZKpkMm1t8

  • StopWearingPurple

    One thing I learned from Feinstein’s article is it appears Hewitt is a good guy and I appreciate that. While we want wins, I don’t want it to come from a Bobby Knight type coach. That said, trouble winning consistently is on the coach. He is either not stressing the right things, or he is not stressing them enough. A perfect example is Hewitt’s teams have always turned the ball over a lot. I can’t think of a single sport were protecting the ball isn’t a basic foundation for a successful team. Yet that was a complaint at Ga Tech and Mason currently sits at 318 (I just about punched my computer when I looked it up and saw the number).

  • Guest

    I have a hypothesis on why we are struggling so badly right
    now: lack of emotional control. For example, look back at the game against
    South Florida in early December. We had a solid lead, until Anali got the
    technical called on him. After that, we completely lost control of the game,
    and ended up losing to a team who we should’ve beaten by double digits. I think
    a similar thing is happening to us now because of the loss against UMass. In
    the Washington Post piece by John Feinstein (which Ryan alluded to in an
    earlier post), he says how the team was very emotional after that loss, and
    obviously took it very hard. So I think that the emotional effects from that UMass
    loss are contributing to our lack of confidence and to why we are on this
    horrible losing streak. This team cannot control its emotions, and I think that
    falls mostly on the coach. As a team, you have to be able to let things go:
    learn from your mistakes, but forget about the past.