There are reasons to question Georgetown’s handling of its opening for a men’s basketball coach. The latest head-scratcher arose Monday afternoon:
The school needed a search firm to end up with Patrick Ewing?
Korn Ferry should return a portion of the Hoyas’ fee for a hometown discount.
From the moment Ewing’s name was floated as a replacement for John Thompson III, I rooted against this hiring. Not that I harbor ill will toward Ewing, the Hoya great who enjoyed a Hall of Fame career with my beloved New York Knicks. On the contrary, I wish Ewing all the best.
The same is true of my hope for the Hoyas, who forged a special place in the hearts and minds of my contemporaries and me during the 1980s. Big John Thompson’s teams instilled in us a sense of pride and achievement that transcended athletics. They formed a cultural force as much as a hoops powerhouse, from their dominance in the polls to their kente-inspired uniforms.
So it’s my desire that Ewing becomes a great coach who leads the Hoyas back to national prominence. It’s certainly possible given how hard he works; we never know until after the fact.
But my preference for Ewing was him landing his first coaching job in the NBA, where he toiled as an assistant for 15 years. And my preference for the Hoyas was them hiring a successful, well-established coach to leave the Thompson era in the past – where it belongs.
I understand the allure of reaching back to the glory days and attempting to revive the old magic. We remember how much fun it was then, the incredible sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Ewing represents a cornerstone of that time period. He’s a familiar face who stirs up warm-and-fuzzy memories.
“My four years at Georgetown were the best of my life,” Ewing said Monday in a statement. “Georgetown is my home and it is a great honor for me to return to my alma mater and serve as the next head coach. I have been preparing to be a head coach for many years and can’t wait to return to the Hilltop.”
Fans of a certain age can relate to the Hoya Destroya and “best years of my life” in the same sentence.
I’m unconvinced that high school seniors can do likewise.
Ewing might turn out to be a great coach. But his No. 1 qualification for the Georgetown job is the time he played at the school … more than three decades ago. Any other candidate who had the same resume but played at, say, Villanova or St. John’s, wouldn’t get a return call after inquiring.
Speaking of St. John’s, the Red Storm pulled a similar move two seasons ago when it hired Chris Mullin to be head coach. Like Ewing, Mullin was drafted in 1985 and spent his entire post-college career in the NBA, either as a player, front-office employee or broadcaster. Unlike Ewing, Mullin had no experience as a coach, not even an assistant, when St. John’s hired him in March 2015. He’s gone 22-43.
The move reeked of desperation. To be fair, St. John’s felt a greater sense of urgency than Georgetown. The Red Storm missed the NCAA tournament in 12 of 15 seasons prior to hiring Mullin. His alma mater had fallen so far, it had nothing to lose in taking a flyer.
That’s not the case for Georgetown, at least not yet. The Hoyas inarguably are trending in the wrong direction. But they reached the tournament in eight of the 10 years before back-to-back absences led to JT3’s dismissal.
Ewing wasn’t the first choice or maybe within the Top 5, for good reason. The Hoyas preferred a seasoned coach with multiple trips to the NCAA tournament on his resume, coaches like Shaka Smart (Texas), Mike Brey (Notre Dame) or Chris Mack (Xavier). Coaches who know how to recruit modern teenagers and navigate the dangers of social media, street agents and AAU internecine feuds.
After failing to land a A-list replacement, the Hoyas should’ve committed to finding an up-and-comer with NCAA experience, maybe like 34-year-old Jamion Christian (Mount St. Mary’s, who has reached the tournament twice in five seasons as a head coach. Or at least hire an assistant with recruiting chops for a successful NCAA program.
Perhaps as important as experience, non-Ewing candidates possessed another desirable: A fresh start.
Family businesses are not inherently good or bad. Everything depends on who rises to power and how they perform as chief executives. But when there’s no natural heir apparent from within, it’s wise to look outside. Ewing continues the Thompson tree – from Big John to his assistant Craig Esherick to JT3 – when planting new seeds probably was a better option for Georgetown moving forward from this point.
The halcyon days are long gone and there’s no guarantee they’ll ever return, not even for an alum as decorated and storied and connected as Ewing. That’s not to say he can’t do it. I hope he does.
I just wish his first head coaching job was in the NBA and Georgetown didn’t give its job to a first-time coach in Big John’s shadow.