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Craig Neal could be missing link for Tech basketball

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

It seems like everybody has put their two cents in regarding the state of the Georgia Tech basketball team.

Now, it's my turn.

For anybody who's been under a rock the past week, former basketball coach Paul Hewitt was fired.

Paul Hewitt had to be fired.

Tech basketball has gone from being the hottest ticket in town at one time to a joke.

Hewitt's record at Tech speaks for itself, and it's not pretty.

Despite leading the Yellow Jackets to the national title game in 2003-04, he was 189-160 overall at Tech. Worse yet, he was 72-104 in the ACC.

For those of you who don't want to do the quick math, that's 32 games below .500 in league play.

Now, it's up to Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich to fix it.

He must fix it.

Tech basketball has too much pride and too much tradition to have turned into a laughing stock.

This is not the first time Radakovich has had to make a "big-time" hirer.

That sort of goes with an athletic director's job description.

Radakovich went down this road when he forced a changing of the guard with the school's football program, replacing Chan Gailey with Paul Johnson.

So far, it looks like Radakovich hit paydirt (excuse the pun) with that hire, and frankly, the football program wasn't in nearly as bad of shape as the basketball program.

For Radakovich, this hire might define his career at Tech.

Yellow Jacket fans are hungry to win again, and it's important to find the right fit.

Tech fans showed their displeasure with the state of the basketball program by staying away last year. Season ticket sales plunged, and at many games, there were as many fans from visiting programs as Tech fans.

Some interesting resumes have no doubt crossed Radakovich's desk, but the litmus test is pretty basic.

The new coach has to restore the glory that once was Tech basketball.

More than anything else, Yellow Jacket fans have to be re-energized.

Tech basketball has become an ACC bottom-feeder, and to its fans, that's totally unacceptable.

Several names are being thrown around. Some fans even want Mark Price to come in and take a shot at lifting Tech back to greatness. Price was a terrific player both in college and in the pros. He was the first great point guard in a long line of point guards to come through Tech.

He and John Salley took a chance on a young unknown coach named Bobby Cremins when they signed on at Tech, and it was magical. Tech went from an unknown college program to an ACC powerhouse once they arrived on the midtown Atlanta campus.

But Price has very little coaching experience, and jumping into the fires of the ACC might not be the best thing.

Still, Tech should reach back to its past.

No, I am not talking about bringing Cremins back.

Craig Neal, however, would be a perfect fit. Neal was Price's back up at point guard and then took over when Price graduated in the mid 1980s.

He could even bring Price aboard to work in some capacity, and I'm sure he could keep Cremins on speed dial whenever he needed the advice from a veteran coach.

Neal has spent his time in several assistant coaching capacities since his playing days ended, working as a pro scout and most recently as an assistant for Steve Alford at Iowa and New Mexico.

The Lobos are currently in the NIT.

Neal seems ready to make the leap back to his alma mater. He knows about mixing academics with athletics at Tech. He knows how good basketball once was, and how much it has slipped.

In two years, Tech will begin play in a new building (next year they will divide their time between Phillips Arena and Gwinnett Center). What a better way for Tech fans to get a fresh start, and feel good about their program then bringing in somebody who loves the Yellow Jackets as much as they do.

It may not work, but the Yellow Jacket Nation is ready for something good to happen, so why not start with one of their own.

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com