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OPINION: Georgetown, Please Don’t Overpay for John Thompson’s Choice

Is Thompson guiding the hiring process from beyond or does President DeGioia have tunnel vision?

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 20 Providence at Seton Hall Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been 5 days since the Georgetown Hoyas and Patrick Ewing have gone their separate ways and, as expected, a new coach has not been publicly announced. Nevertheless, based on news and rumors, it looks like Georgetown may intend to make an offer to Ed Cooley once Providence’s season is officially over. While Cooley is a fine basketball coach and dynamic communicator, the question is whether Georgetown President Jack DeGioia and the hiring committee have tunnel vision for this coach with deep ties to John Thompson, Jr.

Yes, Cooley would still have to accept. Yes, there is still time for things to change. But daylight is burning. Other popular potential candidate names appear to be Micah Shrewsberry and Mike Brey, but the world seems to be coalescing around Cooley as the next coach of Georgetown.

Objectively, Cooley would be a fine pick for any top basketball program. With a proven track record, Cooley has built something special at Providence. But, for the same reasons a program in need of rebuilding might want Cooley, he might want to stay at PC and not start over. Would an offer like $5 million per year for a handful of years be enough to lure Cooley away to the District? Does $5.5 or $6 million make it a no-brainer or is money not the hold-up?

For that vital reason, the ball is in Cooley’s proverbial court. There appears to be a too-many-eggs-in-one-basket problem at Georgetown during this hiring process. Such a problem could be caused by tunnel vision for a potential head coaching candidate who was once anointed by a legend who the university and its leaders revere.

Ed Cooley admires John Thompson Jr. and it’s fair to say that the love was mutual. The story is that, as a high school basketball player, Cooley met Thompson in Providence while his Hoyas were preparing for a game against the Friars at Cooley’s high school gym. Cooley took the initiative and told the Big Coach, ‘Hey, one day I would like to play for you,” and Thompson uncharacteristically invited the young Cooley to stay and watch practice that day.

There’s also the story about Brandon Bowman. Bowman committed to Georgetown after a sit-down with Thompson, Jr. which saved Cooley—then a Boston College assistant planning to visit Bowman in Claifornia—from being on Flight 11 on 9/11. Thompson’s life was spared due to rescheduling a flight on that infamous day too, due to a radio appearance.

Years later, when he heard Cooley’s story about Bowman, Thompson said, “It’s got to be an act of God because Cooley is one of my favorites in coaching,” and “All that connecting makes me feel even better because I like him. Tell him he owes me.”

The coaches’ connection was reestablished in 2007 when Georgetown and John Thompson III invited a Cooley-led Fairfield team to D.C. for a game. The Thompsons have a long history of inviting up-and-coming Black coaches for “buy games” that help fund their programs. Cooley has since relayed that during that trip Thompson Jr. told him “I’ve watched you. Trust what I’m telling you. There’s something about you that I love.”

Thompson’s also predicted that Cooley “won’t be there (at Fairfield) long” and it came to fruition in 2011 when Cooley became the head coach of Thompson’s alma mater, Providence College. It’s unclear whether Thompson lent his counsel to PC, but it’s not hard to imagine Cooley had Big John’s recommendation for the position.

Today, there’s little doubt that Ed Cooley is one of the closest connections to John Thompson still in college basketball. John Thompson Jr. was great to African-American coaches during his storied tenure but he does not have much of a “coaching tree” per se. Looking at Cooley’s career, it’s hard not to see bits of Thompson in the physicality of his teams, as well as the tough-but-fair nature of their sideline persona.

Thompson was involved with Georgetown decision-making up until his passing. When Patrick Ewing was hired in 2017, after JT3 was dismissed, John Thompson urged Ewing to throw his hat in the ring as the next potential coach, saying “We need to have one of our family members in this job.”

In his column for The Washington Post titled “To preserve John Thompson’s legacy, Georgetown must finally move past it,” Jerry Brewer writes, “Georgetown borrowed against the John Thompson Jr. legacy for too long. It has been heartbreaking to watch the incompatibility of past and present, a prolonged decay that kept spoiling beloved relics of the Hoyas’ tradition” and “The Hoyas need help from the outside, and they need it desperately. The best way to honor Thompson’s legacy is to create something new.”

Now, with Georgetown expected to make Cooley an offer he can't refuse, one can’t help but question whether John Thompson guiding the passing of the coaching baton from beyond. Is Jack DeGioia listening too hard for the voice of Big Coach that he can’t see other options? Time is running out. Being locked on one candidate at this point is risky business.

The coaching carousel is in full swing with Chris Beard hired at Mississippi, Damon Stoudamire hired at Georgia Tech, and McNeese State hiring former LSU coach Will Wade. More coaching spots are opening, however, with St. John’s cutting ties with Mike Anderson, Mark Adams resigning at Texas Tech, and Jim Boeheim parting ways with Syracuse (filled by Adrian Autry).

The most obvious available choice is Rick Pitino and if Georgetown’s president and Board cannot see that, there are issues. No, this lunch blog is not necessarily suggesting that Georgetown President Jack DeGioia should step down for his alleged refusal to even interview Pitino, but there seems to be a lack of common sense in this process.

Recent actions (and inactions) of the University may indicate that the president of Georgetown might be more concerned with his position within the NCAA Board of Directors than a duty to the University's athletics program. It would be damn-near negligence for Georgetown to approach this hiring without interviewing the best coach, recruiter, teacher, and communicator available—especially since many outlets suggest he has a strong interest in the GU job. Moreover, Pitino would not likely cost $5+ million per year, like Cooley.

Thompson-connections for basketball may be all that DeGioia knows. President John J. DeGioia took office in 2001, which means he had a hand in firing Craig Esherick, hiring John Thompson III, firing John Thompson III, hiring Patrick Ewing, firing Patrick Ewing, and now hiring the next head coach of Georgetown Men’s Basketball. Even the decision to not terminate Patrick Ewing last year after the 0-19 season appears to now be more about loyalty than a concern for buyout funding.

DeGioia has been a basketball fan since at least his time as a Georgetown student from 1975-1979 and he has publicly said that he’s been involved with basketball decisions since 1998, when he was promoted to senior vice president in 1998 and became responsible for all university-wide operations. This is all a roundabout way to say that DeGioia likely even had a hand in approving the hiring of Esherick when John Thompson, Jr. stepped down in the 1999-2000 season. He definitely approved Esherick’s extension in 2003. Every head coach at Georgetown since 1972 is intimately connected to John Thompson—not to mention the many assistants and “chief of staff.”

One thing is for sure, DeGioia loves the Thompsons. We all do. There’s a lot to love, but a growing vocal portion of the fanbase wants something different for Georgetown. The hiring process needs to evolve beyond the appearance of “What Would John Thompson Do?” Hiring an outside search firm won’t convince many that Thompson’s prior ordination of Cooley hasn’t guided the pen on this expected offer.

Maybe Cooley doesn’t take the job because he doesn’t want the pressure of following in Big John’s footsteps too closely. Or perhaps Ed Cooley’s camp reads this post and is reminded of Thompson’s love and respect and it renews an interest in coming to Georgetown to rebuild an elite program and continue the legacy of the trailblazing coach. We all know that Cooley sent his daughter to the Hilltop and he was a special guest to the invite-only Thompson Athletics Center dedication. Cooley has love for Georgetown and Thompson.

Ed Cooley’s charisma and charm would likely excel at Georgetown and in Washington, DC. The man has had some solid, extended success at Providence and coming to Georgetown could allow a more national presence and a higher ceiling for Cooley. The 53-year old Cooley could have a solid 10-year run with Georgetown, picking up where he left off with success in the Transfer Portal and adding new NIL opportunities. He knows the BIG EAST as good as anyone. There are dozens of reasons to think that Cooley will have success at Georgetown and very few reasons to doubt him. It would objectively be a great hire for any program, perhaps even at the higher price.

But make no mistake, Ed Cooley was hand picked by John Thompson Jr.