Many years ago when we were undergraduates on the Hilltop walking across campus late one night, a hulking figure emerged from the shadows, gave us a passing greeting and ambled on by. We stood in silent, humbled awe. John Thompson had said hello to us.
Everybody had seen Thompson before, had watched him prowl the sidelines with that white towel draped over his shoulder. But to see him outside of a basketball game was like beholding a God down from Mount Olympus strolling among mortals.
John Thompson was larger than life. In Georgetown students, he inspired pride, and in his players, he coached greatness. His approach to Georgetown basketball was, like the university’s approach to its own students, bigger than just the court or the classroom.
We all knew that when Thompson decided to retire, things would change. He was a college basketball institution and would leave enormous shoes to fill. Craig Esherick, a Georgetown graduate who had played and coached under Thompson, seemed like a good choice. Who didn’t want to root for the mustached white guy with a Georgetown law degree?
And for a year, it worked. Some legacies from Thompson’s recruiting classes and astonishing good-luck in the 2001 NCAA tournament had many of us believing that the greatness that once was, would remain.
The Georgetown University basketball program, one of the country’s great collegiate sports programs, is in a free-fall. An off-season that saw a slew of promising players transfer to junior colleges and anonymous programs has become a bitter winter of losses and discontent.
Humiliating defeats to once and future powerhouses like Connecticut and Duke notwithstanding, losses in the last two weeks have been a dagger in the hearts of a dwindling fan base. First, a 15-point shellacking at home to Villanova. Next, the first ever Big East loss to Virginia Tech. Then, a jaw-dropping display of ineptitude against Temple on national television. And finally, last Tuesday’s inexcusable loss to St. John’s, a team crippled by scandal and playing with four walk-ons.
Fans have gone from rooting for a spot in the Dance, to hoping for an NIT berth, to doubting the Hoyas will even play in the Big East Tournament.
What has happened? Craig Esherick has.
We rooted for him at the beginning, but now it’s time for the coach and his bosses to realize that this hasn’t worked. The program has imploded. He appears not to inspire confidence in his players and certainly doesn’t in the fans. He has lost good players to other teams. In an extraordinary slap in the face, Patrick Ewing’s own son, the flesh and blood of Georgetown’s greatest player, now wears Indiana red.
The university’s administration is not blameless either, both for its blanket support of Esherick and its refusal to demand excellence in athletics as it does in academics. To say that a top-tier basketball team is incompatible with the broader academic mission of an elite university, as some administrators have claimed, is simply wrong. The examples of Duke and Stanford come quickly to mind.
A denial of athletics is also self-defeating. How many of us decided to attend the school we have grown to love simply because of Hoya basketball? Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe utombo; these are ambassadors of our school just as much as George Tenet, Paul Tagliabue and Bill Clinton – perhaps even more so.
One can only wonder what current New York Knicks Mutombo, ichael Sweetney and Othella Harrington must have been thinking at adison Square Garden Tuesday night when their beloved Hoyas crumbled before the laughable Red Storm, and as fans in the seats above them – Georgetown fans – began the chant too often heard when the Hoyas go down to another uninspiring defeat.
“Fire Esherick! Fire Esherick! Fire Esherick!”
For alumni, this fall from grace has been particularly jarring. We remember first-hand what it used to be like when Georgetown was a regular contender in the elite ranks of college basketball. For many of us, Hoya basketball is our most prominent link back to campus. We go to away games when they’re in our town and scour the depths of ESPN to see them on television. Too often this year we have been disappointed, and we are not alone among our fellow former classmates to think of the current state of Hoya basketball when envelopes asking for alumni donations arrive each year.
John Thompson is gone and, though we miss him, he is never coming back. It is now time for his former assistant to join him. Craig Esherick needs to resign for the alumni for whom watching the Hoyas play has become painful. He must resign for the current students and players. But most of all, he must resign for Georgetown.
Andrew Geiger and Nicholas Johnston are 1999 graduates of the College.