Well, it’s official now. Hoya great Patrick Ewing will return to the Hilltop and be the next coach of the men’s basketball team. The decision to hire Ewing should definitely generate some optimism in the Hoya fan base (and rightfully so, given his substantial coaching experience and proficiency in operating a pro-style offense), but this hire raises concerns, namely about the approach this school and this program take to the men’s basketball program.
The primary issue with the decision to hire Ewing is that it does virtually nothing to eliminate the notion that the Thompson family, namely former coach John Thompson Jr., still exerts substantial influence over the basketball program. Furthermore, the fact that the decision, as publicly perceived, came down to Ewing, arguably the program’s most successful alum and a player under Big John, and Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, a client of Thompson agent and friend David Falk, adds more evidence to the idea that the status quo will be maintained.
However, I hope that Coach Ewing will heed the longstanding concerns of the student, alumni, and fan communities and change the way Georgetown basketball operates. Not all students may have the patience that older fans do, but a few changes to how Georgetown basketball does business can convince the majority of fans not to turn on Ewing as dramatically as they did on now-dismissed coach John Thompson III. With that in mind, here are a handful of suggestions for Coach Ewing that, if adopted, will buy him plenty of time to turn this program around.
1. Engage the students!
One of the biggest reasons student fans had such a proclivity to move on from JT3 originated in his distance from them. Students almost never saw him around campus and despite the best efforts from the promotions department, most students just did not develop the same attachment to men’s basketball as their predecessors did. The team was not good and after the team faded from NCAA tournament contention, fans had no compelling reason to reach out to a part of the university as isolated from the student body as the basketball team.
This does not mean that Coach Ewing needs to keep his Snapchat story up to date or post dank memes around the clock. This does mean, however, that he should reach out to students. Joining social media would be a start. A 2013 report indicated that more than half of Division I coaches were on Twitter. John Thompson III never engaged on social media, but giving Coach Ewing a presence on social media should give him another platform to promote Georgetown basketball and to interact with the public if he so chose.
I would strongly encourage him to meet with students. Hold occasional “office hours” and stand out in Red Square during the Wednesday Farmer’s Market or at one of the “peak traffic” times in between normal class times would be a start. Even something as innocuous as sending players around to drop pizza off in common rooms every so often would also be an encouraging measure that would garner more student support for the team.
Meeting with passionate groups of student fans would also go a long way. Several of my friends involved in Students Concerned About Georgetown Basketball and I would be happy to engage in dialogue. I would think the student fan members of Hoya Blue would have feel similarly about opening a channel of communication between their group and the new head coach.
2. Be open with the media
This goes beyond students, but students definitely read the news about the program. When the only articles Hoyas fans see about the program are Pete Thamel’s trolling in Sports Illustrated or Washington Post pieces questioning the program’s identity, it doesn’t help elicit optimism. The more platforms the program has to publicly promote a positive image, the better. Whether this is a personal Twitter or a deal for a weekly/occasional interview spot on a local radio station, Ewing provides a great opportunity to create a more public, outward-facing platform for the program.
A more open approach to media relations would also likely be a boon to the program. Allowing the media to tell the Hoyas’ story better would likely garner better coverage. Media outlets would be more willing to send high-profile reporters to cover the team if the program gave them the light of day. When Georgetown has compelling stories to tell, like they did with Bradley Hayes’ journey to the Hoyas’ roster, for example, media outlets may give it more attention than they did when it happened. Stories like that would generate a greater attachment among fans and would lend credence to the notion that Georgetown basketball is a family and one that treats its members well. If the program implements suggestion #1 above and opens itself up to more good publicity and positive interactions with the student fan community, the good publicity would likely only increase.
3. Give fans reason to believe that it’s not Big John pulling the strings
As mentioned above, the Ewing hire does not do much to dispel the notion of Big John’s sizable influence over the program. I have no way of knowing how or if this can be done, but I would encourage Coach Ewing and/or Athletic Director Lee Reed to take some sort of visible step to demonstrate that they are the ones in control. I would hope this can be done in some way that illustrates a clear acknowledgment of Big John’s role in building the program and that gives him some deserved input, but fans will lose patience with the program yet again if they assume that the same individual is still in charge. We have no way of knowing whether or not this was or is the case, but regardless, assuaging that stigma in some way would help earn the trust of the fan base.
I think every student fan of Georgetown basketball will continue to support the team. As much as I personally would have wanted a clean break from the program’s past, there’s something to be said about the buzz a Ewing hire will and has generated for the next few seasons among fans. For the first time in a while, students will be able to get excited about Georgetown men’s basketball, and Patrick Ewing will be a big reason why.
Welcome to the Hilltop, Coach Ewing!