Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

The Ewing Experiment Comes to an End

Patrick Ewing’s (CAS ’85) hire as head coach was supposed to be the next chapter of his legendary Hoya career. If only it was meant to be.

After going 75-109 over six seasons at his alma mater, Ewing will not be returning as head coach of the Georgetown University men’s basketball program. Ewing’s departure follows the Hoyas’ (7-25, 2-18 Big East) 48-80 thrashing by the Villanova University Wildcats (17-17, 10-10 Big East) during the first round of the men’s Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, the home stadium of Ewing’s former team, the New York Knicks.

Georgetown appears to have moved on already, as earlier this week, the university announced it would hire Ed Cooley, former head coach of the Providence College Friars (21-12, 13-7 Big East), to replace Ewing. 

“I am very proud to be a graduate of Georgetown University,” Ewing said in a March 9 statement. “And I am very grateful to President DeGioia for giving me the opportunity to achieve my ambition to be a head basketball coach.”

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) said the university remains forever indebted to Ewing for his dedication to the basketball program over the past six years.

“Patrick Ewing is the heart of Georgetown basketball,” DeGioia said in the March 9 announcement. “I am deeply grateful to Coach Ewing for his vision, his determination, and for all that he has enabled Georgetown to achieve.”

Dashed Hopes for a Heroic Homecoming

Georgetown University hired Ewing as the 18th head coach of its men’s basketball program in 2017, following an illustrious playing career that launched Georgetown basketball to national fame. Under Head Coach John Thompson Jr., Ewing led the Hoyas to three NCAA Tournament finals and the 1984 national championship, Georgetown’s only NCAA basketball title, before his selection as the No. 1 pick in the 1985 NBA draft. During his 17 years as an NBA player, Ewing became an 11-time All-Star and a member of seven All-NBA teams.

Despite 15 years of experience as an assistant coach in the NBA, Ewing had no experience as head coach of any program at any level before accepting his position at Georgetown. But Georgetown took on the experiment, since Ewing was one of the best players in Georgetown basketball history. Many expected his hiring to be the homecoming story of a Hoya hero. 

Quentin Fidance (SFS ’24), vice president of Hoya Blue, Georgetown’s official spirit organization, said Ewing defined the program’s prime. 

“You can say what you will about his coaching performance; Ewing will always be one of the best people this campus has ever produced,” Fidance told The Hoya. “He will be, aside from John Thompson himself, the face of that era.”

Thompson Jr. is the embodiment of Georgetown basketball’s golden age, as the first Black coach in history to win a NCAA title. After Thompson Jr. retired in 1999, the Hoyas worked to capitalize on his legacy by turning to his assistant coach, Craig Escherick, and then his son, John Thompson III, to fill the head coach position. Following Thompson III’s firing in 2017, Georgetown once again attempted to revive its glory days by hiring the crown jewel of its NCAA championship run: Ewing.

Nathan Chen (SFS ’22), a former Georgetown Athletics communications intern, said the university knew it was taking a chance on Ewing when it first hired him.

“They ran the risk of this happening, where they might have to force out their favorite son,” Chen told The Hoya.

“This university gave Coach Ewing the opportunity to fail, and that’s not something that you see happen for a lot of great, and frankly a lot of Black, head coaches,” Chen added. “They don’t get the opportunity to fail. And Ewing got the opportunity, and he failed, and it’s time to move on.”

Ewing inherited a team that had recently slid from a stretch of consistent NCAA postseason appearances to consecutive losing records within the Big East. Georgetown hoped Ewing’s hiring would be the kick-start that the program needed to move back toward its former glory.

But the Hoyas have not reached the Final Four since 2007.

Georgetown struggled to establish its footing under Ewing’s first year, the 2017-18 season, as head coach following a 15-15, 5-13 conference record. In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ewing continued to produce mediocre results, failing to turn the program around. 

The Hoyas’ surprise 2021 Big East Tournament championship win as the No. 8 seed offered a glimpse of hope for the struggling program, according to center Qudus Wahab (CAS ’23), who started for Georgetown in the 2020-21 Big East Tournament run and the 2022-23 season.

“Winning the Big East championship my sophomore year gave me the confidence that it could be done again,” Wahab wrote to The Hoya. “Unfortunately, things didn’t go as I planned or thought. But above all, I am glad to be a Hoya.”

But following their Big East win, Ewing’s Hoyas hit rock bottom. They lost 29 straight conference games across the 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons to set a record for most consecutive Big East losses, struggling to a pitiful 13-50, 2-37 Big East record over the past two seasons.

High turnover rates have also plagued the team as players race to escape the sinking ship; since the Big East championship title, 17 players have entered the transfer portal in an attempt to leave the program.

Many long-time, demoralized Hoyas fans stopped attending games. Some fans who did attend brought posters demanding Ewing be replaced, only to have the posters confiscated. Flyers reading “Save Georgetown Basketball” were posted all over campus, welcoming students back from winter break. 

Even Georgetown’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Lee Reed acknowledged the basketball team was struggling.

“We recognize this is a challenging and frustrating time for the men’s basketball team and our fans,” Reed wrote to The Hoya on Jan. 4. 

Wahab said Ewing’s best efforts as a head coach came up short of his lofty ambitions for the team.

“Coach Ewing will forever be a Hoya legend, his goal was to bring the basketball program back up to the level when he used to play,” Wahab wrote. “He did his best as a coach and now all he can do is to wish the program the best in future endeavors.”

Ewing Experiment Ends With Mixed Sentiments

Ewing coached and lost his last game for Georgetown men’s basketball March 8 against Villanova — the same team to which he lost his last game as a player in the 1985 NCAA championship. Georgetown announced his firing the next day. 

Brian Weinberger (CAS ’24), both a Hoyas and a Knicks fan, said Ewing still holds a special place in his heart, even after his lackluster career as head coach.

“​​I know online there’s been a lot of hate for him,” Weinberger told The Hoya. “I don’t have any hate for him, I really don’t. It has to be a tough situation being this hero at Georgetown and coming in and just being terrible.”

Some fans, including Simone Guite (CAS ’26), could not believe the news that Ewing and Georgetown would be parting ways.

“I thought it was a joke,” Guite told The Hoya. “I didn’t think it was serious because Patrick Ewing means so much to this school.”

Guite, who played with the Georgetown Pep Band at the Big East Tournament, said the energy of Ewing’s last game felt different from the rest of the season.

“The team itself seemed different, I will say,” Guite said. “That was one of the big things I noticed that night, is that a lot of the regular guys that start didn’t seem to start. It just didn’t seem like the same Georgetown team that we had seen all season.”

Rebecca Friedman (CAS ’24), another pep band member, said there was only one thing more predictable than Ewing’s firing going into the tournament: Georgetown’s loss. 

Even as the pep band packed for the trip to play in the stands at Madison Square Garden, Friedman said the students only brought enough clothing for one day of travel, anticipating that Georgetown would be eliminated in an early round.

Despite general disappointment with the men’s basketball team, Friedman said she felt unsure how much blame fans should place on Ewing’s shoulders.

“I feel like it’s sad to have people clamoring for him to be fired,” Friedman said. “We’re doing really badly, but sometimes, when I watch our team, I’m like, ‘Well, we would have missed that three even if we had a great head coach.’”

But others, like John Kurkjian (CAS ’24), the vice president of Georgetown basketball blog Thompson’s Towel, said head coaches have a direct hand in the performance of their team.

“I think the head coach and the right guy at the helm is an integral role in just bringing in the right culture,” Kurkjian told The Hoya. “Aside from the on-court failures, we’re just seeing that there’s no sort of culture at all, and it’s just impossible to build a culture of winning when you just have guys transferring out, you have scandals and you just can’t win basketball games.”

Kurkjian said Ewing’s player recruitment strategy prioritized individual skill but failed to play to the strengths of Georgetown as a team.

“The guys that he picked up in the transfer portal were just guys that he knew could play and weren’t necessarily good fits for the program just because he needed as much talent infusion as possible to win games,” Kurkjian said. “That’s going to be a big part of whoever comes in next, where you can’t just recruit the best players. You have to recruit the best players for Georgetown.”

Weinberger said the talent of Georgetown’s players went to waste with a poor coaching strategy.

“We always just seem to collapse down the stretch, and I feel like that comes down to coaching,” Weinberger said. “There will be times where we call a timeout, and we come out of the timeout and immediately implode. We can’t do that; that’s on the coach.”

As a longtime Hoyas fan, Kurkjian said watching the team’s downfall has been painful. 

“I know how fun it is to watch them when they’re at their top, and I know how brutal it is to watch them when they’re at the bottom,” Kurkjian said.

Chen said change was imperative, but he is not celebrating the departure of the Hoya legend.

“My reaction was just sadness really more than anything else, not angry,” Chen told The Hoya. “Not angry at the decision, not angry at Ewing, no longer angry at the way the last two years have gone down.”

“You knew it wasn’t for lack of effort. You knew it wasn’t for lack of care or passion, but things just didn’t work out, and that’s unfortunate,” Chen added.

The Future of Georgetown Men’s Basketball

Ewing’s departure comes amid a complete restructuring of Georgetown’s entire basketball program, as the university also declined to renew women’s basketball Head Coach James Howard’s contract, according to a March 13 announcement by Georgetown Athletics. 

Despite excitement around leadership changes, students expect Cooley to face an uphill battle of trying to rebuild a once great but now struggling program as its new head coach.

Kurkjian said Cooley must work on addressing the weaknesses of Ewing’s tenure, including a neglect of defense and poor retention of Washington, D.C-Maryland-Virginia-area talent. 

“If you watch Georgetown basketball, you know that they just have not played defense at all during Ewing’s tenure, which I found kind of ironic just because his whole career was built on the fact that he’s one of the greatest defensive players of all time, blocking shots and just being a force in the paint,” Kurkjian said. 

“Another thing is an ability to recruit in the DMV area,” Kurkjian added. “Recently, we’ve seen so many good players come out of it, and they haven’t ended up in Georgetown. They grew up right in our backyard, and we haven’t been able to keep them home.”

Still, Kurkjian warned that Ewing’s firing will not solve all of Georgetown’s problems. 

“I think people will have to temper their expectations a little when we are hiring a new head coach that he’s just going to come in, whoever it is, and fix everything,” Kurkjian said. “I think it’s bigger than that. It needs to be bigger than that. It has to be a cultural revamp, more than just an on-court revamp.”

It is still possible to honor Georgetown’s past while preparing for a better future, according to Chen.

“There’s a way to be able to respect the values and principles that made this program what it was, made it the revolution and the intervention that college basketball needed when it was ascending in the ’80s, but with new methods of conveying that message to a national stage and new methods of providing underserved communities with educational opportunities that make more sense in the landscape of college basketball today,” Chen said.

Ewing said he looks forward to seeing where the Georgetown program goes and is proud of his time with the program. 

“I wish the program nothing but success,” Ewing said in a March 9 statement. “I will always be a Hoya.”

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