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Door open for Hewitt to leave

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech has granted permission for St. John's to interview Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt.

Georgia Tech associate athletic director Wayne Hogan said St. John's was given the OK on Tuesday to speak with Hewitt. Hogan said he did not know when the interview will take place.

Hogan said the request was granted after he said earlier Tuesday that St. John's had not asked to speak with Hewitt.

"What's happened from there, I don't know," Hogan said.

Hewitt, who is from New York, coached Georgia Tech to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Hewitt has guided Georgia Tech to five NCAA tournaments, including the 2004 Final Four, in his 10 seasons. His New York background and NCAA experience match St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch's stated criteria for a new coach.

"We want to hire someone who has a record of success of getting into the NCAA tournament," Monasch said. "In trying to find the right person, probably the safest choice is someone who has done it at this level, someone who believes in the mission of school and understands New York."

St. John's fired Norm Roberts last week.

Hewitt did not immediately return a phone message to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Georgia Tech (23-13) advanced to the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and earned its first NCAA tournament victory since 2005 before falling to Ohio State in the second round.

The postseason wins followed a disappointing finish to the regular season that left Hewitt's job security in doubt.

Georgia Tech ended the regular season with two straight losses and five in its last seven.

Hewitt's six-year contract at about $1.3 million per year has an automatic rollover clause. He said he had offers from other schools when he signed the contract in 2004; one of those schools is believed to be St. John's.

After the ACC tournament, Hewitt blasted suggestions his rollover contract has protected his job.

"I could have made at least a half million more going someplace else but I felt really strong about the philosophy and mission of Georgia Tech," Hewitt said.

St. John's hired Roberts after Hewitt signed his new deal with former athletic director Dave Braine. The contract includes buyout clauses for Hewitt and Georgia Tech.

Hogan said it was too early to say if Georgia Tech would enforce its side of the contract and force Hewitt to pay his buyout of approximately $3.4 million.

"I don't think we're talking about the contract," Hogan said. "I think that's premature. I think a lot of water has to pass under the bridge."

Hewitt insisted last week he's not interested in moving.

"If they tell me they don't want me here anymore, that's fine, but my family likes it here. I like it here," Hewitt said.

Monasch said the school is ready to offer a salary competitive with top national coaches.

"Depending on who the coach is we will make the financial commitment and a length of time that is appropriate," Monasch said last week.

St. John's (17-16) lost to Memphis in the first round of the NIT.

Roberts was fired with an 81-101 record with the school. St. John's has not been in the NCAA tournament since 2002.

Hewitt is 177-144 overall and 67-93 in ACC games in 10 years at Georgia Tech.