Georgetown University declined to renew women’s basketball Head Coach James Howard’s contract following a six-year tenure defined by unexceptional results.
A national search is underway to find Howard’s replacement. The announcement came after the Hoyas (14-17, 6-14 Big East) fell to the No. 7 University of Connecticut Huskies (31-5, 18-2 Big East) 39-69 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, concluding Howard’s fourth consecutive season with a losing record.
Georgetown’s decision to part ways with Howard came amid an internal restructuring of the basketball program. Georgetown Athletics publicized the decision four days after a March 9 announcement that former men’s basketball Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) will not return to the Hilltop.
Howard said he will fondly remember his time on the Hilltop.
“Georgetown will always hold a special place in my heart,” Howard said in a March 13 announcement. “I was fortunate to build relationships that will continue as I move on to the next opportunity.”
Georgetown Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Lee Reed thanked Howard for his time on the Hilltop.
“Coach Howard and his staff have shown a true commitment to the program and his student-athletes over the past six years,” Reed told Georgetown Athletics. “I want to thank him for both his dedication and leadership to our student-athletes, and wish him well in the future.”
Howard became the 10th head coach in the program’s history June 14, 2017, after serving two years as an associate head coach for the Hoyas following the departure of Natasha Adair to the University of Delaware. Howard brought a breadth of coaching experience, including a brief stint as an assistant coach at Georgetown for the 1997-98 season.
Howard led his team to mediocrity, leaving Georgetown with a 66-108, 32-77 Big East record and a lackluster .379 winning percentage. The Hoyas have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2012 or even the Women’s National Invitation Tournament since the 2018-19 season, Howard’s only winning season (19-16, 9-9 Big East) on the Hilltop.
Former Georgetown player Jillian Archer (COL ’22) said Howard’s departure from the program was unsurprising given his underwhelming tenure. Archer played for Howard at Georgetown from 2020 to 2022, after transferring from the University of Southern California during her sophomore year.
“I wasn’t shocked when I heard about Coach Howard parting ways with Georgetown,” Archer told The Hoya. “His record definitely wasn’t the best.”
But to those not as familiar with the program, Howard’s departure was not anticipated.
Malin Kint (SFS ’24), a member of the Georgetown Pep Band who attended both the men’s and women’s Big East tournaments, said Ewing’s last game carried expectations of leadership changes.
Kint said criticisms of Howard were not as well known or discussed.
“It wasn’t even a thought on my mind,” Kint said. “In comparison to the men’s team, I didn’t think I really noticed the women losing as much as I did with the men. Even when they were, it never really crossed my mind that it was a coaching thing.”
Archer spoke highly of her relationship with Howard.
“He impacted my life, and I know maybe a few of my teammates’ lives, a lot,” Archer told The Hoya. “He took a chance on me when I was transferring from USC and gave me the opportunity to get an amazing degree. I’ll forever be thankful to him and his whole coaching staff.”
Archer said some athletes under Howard’s tenure disagreed with his approach to balancing academics and basketball.
“One of the biggest issues that Coach Howard had was that everybody that he recruited was very talented and skilled, but not everybody took basketball as seriously as Coach Howard would have wanted them to,” Archer said. “With Georgetown being such a great school academically, sometimes academics came first for some people.”
“I’m not saying [Howard] didn’t promote us being successful in the classroom, but you definitely have to have a balance when you’re a student-athlete,” Archer added. “Not everybody that he recruited wanted to have that balance.”
The university’s lack of marketing surrounding the women’s basketball program — in comparison to the men’s team — contributed to Howard’s shortcomings, Archer believes.
“If the university did a better job of promoting women’s basketball, he could have been more successful because he could have potentially gotten higher recruits,” Archer said.
Hoya basketball fan Omar Kanjwal (SFS ’17) believes the facilities that the university afforded to the women’s team hindered Howard’s success.
“It’s very difficult for the next head coach to succeed recruiting-wise when the facilities that [the women’s team] play in are so outdated,” Kanjwal said. “If you’re a coach, and you’re trying to go recruit, it’s difficult for you to be able to prove that ‘hey, the school takes this program very seriously, and it wants you to succeed.’”
“It’s difficult for the school to wholeheartedly say that it supports the women’s team if it’s not trying to do something, hopefully, to make it so that [the women’s team] has a better place to play,” Kanjwal said.
As a transfer student-athlete, Archer said Georgetown’s gym paled in comparison to other schools, creating an impression of neglect surrounding women’s sports.
“It’s difficult when you go somewhere like Georgetown, and you see that the women are playing in a gym that looks like a high school gym,” Archer said.
“It just makes you think, ‘We don’t take [women’s] basketball seriously here,’ especially in comparison to the men who play at a big arena and have so many opportunities,” Archer added.
Although the university has not yet announced the next head coach of the program, former women’s basketball player Shanniah Wright (COL ’22) said former Hoya and WNBA champion Sugar Rogers (COL ’13, GRD ’21) would be a phenomenal candidate for the position.
“She was a blessing in a very dark time for me,” Wright told The Hoya. “She gave me confidence, reminded me of my love for the game.”
Rogers, who played for the Hoyas from 2009 to 2012, is the most decorated player in Georgetown women’s basketball history. Howard brought on Rogers as an assistant coach for the 2021-22 season, but she did not return for the 2022-23 season, even though many players adored her.
“If they brought [Rogers] in as the coach, I think that you would see an amazing shift in the greatness that could be Georgetown women’s basketball,” Wright said.
Archer said she believed current Associate Head Coach Niki Reid Geckeler could help build Georgetown into a powerhouse for women’s basketball as head coach.
“She’s very goal-oriented, not just for herself, but for her players as well,” Archer said. “She’s very passionate and committed to what she does. She plays a huge role in a lot of the girls’ lives as ‘a mom away from home,’ and she’s able to build that relationship with you while still making sure that people are staying focused on the bigger goal.”
During the search for Howard’s replacement, Archer believes an ability to win will be the most important consideration.
“I think the biggest thing will be having a coach that can come in and create structure and win games,” Archer said. “I think that when you have a coach that is really used to winning, it’s a completely different mindset that’s instilled into the players because your first thought is to win, not just to go out and play.”