This week, Georgetown women’s basketball Head Coach Natasha Adair left the university to accept the same position at the University of Delaware. This triggers Georgetown’s second search for a head basketball coach in the span of two months, following the firing of John Thompson III and the hiring of Patrick Ewing as men’s basketball head coach. After three seasons of improvement, Adair undoubtedly leaves the program in a better place than when she arrived. However, her departure raises a series of questions for the program and the school.
Under Adair, the Hoyas improved their win total from four in 2014-15 to 16 in 2015-16 and finally to 17 this past season. Adair, who became the program’s fourth head coach in four seasons when she was hired, built a strong team-oriented culture during her tenure, stabilizing an inconsistent program.
Coaching changes are a constant part of the landscape of college sports. Coaches frequently leave their current jobs to pursue what they view as greater opportunities, usually for a more prestigious program or conference. Adair’s choice to leave the Hilltop for Delaware is a curious move from a career standpoint and raises questions about Georgetown’s status in the college sports landscape.
The Blue Hens compete in the Colonial Athletic Association, which is traditionally viewed as a “mid-major” conference, not one of the premier athletic conferences in the country. Delaware has made four NCAA Tournament appearances in their history, the same number as Georgetown. In the last two seasons, Delaware has posted a record of 32-29, with no postseason appearances. In the same span, Georgetown had a record of 33-27 under Adair, with back-to-back appearances in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. In addition, Georgetown beat Delaware head to head in each of the last two seasons.
Before Adair arrived at Georgetown, she spent two seasons coaching at the College of Charleston — also in the CAA — before departing for Georgetown, presumably because she viewed it as a more prestigious opportunity. Three years later, she now departs Georgetown for a school in the same mid-major conference she had previously left.
Adair unquestionably felt a strong personal connection to Delaware. In her introductory press conference, she cited the school’s strong leadership and fan base as driving forces behind her decision. I certainly understand that rationale, and it is perfectly within her right to pursue greater opportunities. Going even further than that, I believe that Adair should be celebrated and thanked for turning around a program that was in chaos when she arrived.
However, for Georgetown and Athletic Director Lee Reed, Adair’s departure must be troubling. Even though the programs’ results are similar, Adair viewed the job at Delaware as a superior opportunity to her job at Georgetown. Now, the next hire is critical for Georgetown to build on the improvements that Adair made and continue to restore the program’s reputation and status in the landscape of college athletics.
The first step will be to retain the current players and recruits who had committed to Adair’s program. The Hoyas are expected to return four starters from last season — senior guards Dorothy Adomako and DiDi Burton, senior forward Cynthia Petke and junior guard Dionna White. In addition, the team will add senior guard Mikayla Venson, a transfer from Virginia who led the Cavaliers with 15.1 points per game and a single-season school record 70 three-pointers. Georgetown has also signed three prospects to National Letters of Intent to join the team next season. If the new coach is able to retain the current roster, the team should still be in position to continue its upward trajectory.
I wish Adair the very best of luck with the Delaware program moving forward, and I thank her for her contributions to the team and the school. However, it is worth examining the circumstances behind her exit. One coach’s departure certainly does not signify the downfall of an athletic department, and, unless this becomes a consistent trend, Georgetown probably has nothing to worry about. Still, the school must ensure that it is doing everything it can to maintain and strengthen the perception of its athletic program nationwide.