Why Patrick Ewing and Georgetown didn’t work, and what must come next

When you walk into the John Thompson Jr. Athletic Center on the Georgetown University campus, you can’t help but notice the tributes to the man who established the Hoyas as a national power in the 1980s.

There is a larger than life bronze statue.

Inside the team’s training facility, the first thing you see is a brown wooden chair with a white towel hanging over it.

The 1984 national championship banner is plastered on the wall, reminding everyone of the program’s peak moment when Patrick Ewing and John Thompson guided Georgetown to glory.

At this point, Georgetown University is as far from those days as it could be. The best way to pay homage to the past is not to try to recreate the old days. It’s to recognize that the year is 2023. College basketball has changed, and the Hoyas can celebrate their past by turning over a new page and using their significant resources to function as a current Big East program.

Georgetown took the first step on that road by ripping off the band-aid Thursday night, firing the program’s proud son, Ewing, after six seasons. Two years ago, the Hall of Famer led the Hoyas to four wins in four days to become the first person to win the Big East championship as both a player and coach. It’s fitting that it’s Ewing who gets that distinction because his commitment to Georgetown in 1981 was the main reason the conference brought its postseason tournament to Madison Square Garden in the first place.

[Georgetown fires Patrick Ewing; national search underway]

No one wants success for Georgetown more than Ewing.

“It was especially meaningful for me to be at the helm of the basketball program at my alma mater,” he said in the school’s news release. “I wish the program nothing but success. I will always be a Hoya.”

So what went wrong?

Ewing had experience as an NBA assistant coach for 15 years. He certainly had his circle of guys like Pat Riley and the Van Gundy brothers to rely on. In 2018, he brought in some very high-profile recruits, in a top-35 class with James Akinjo, Mac McClung and Josh LeBlanc.

But these three players were given away, like many others. In all, Ewing lost 18 players to the transfer window over five seasons. He struggled to maintain relationships with 18- to 22-year-olds, something NBA bigs have also dealt with when taking a look at college coaching.

After a winless Big East season last year, six players left the program. The only returning starter this season, 2021 conference tournament MVP Dante Harris, never played in a game this season and transferred to Virginia.

Retaining players also comes with having a good staff, and that’s where the systematic problems with Georgetown begin.

Ewing had a group around him (Robert Kirby, Akbar Waheed and the late Louis Orr) who were past their prime. Last season saw an overhaul, with former LSU assistant Kevin Nickelberry as the recruiting chip joining former UW-Milwaukee head coach Pat Baldwin and assistant Clinton Crouch. But it was too little, too late. The fallout from a winless season was still present and Georgetown lacked leadership.

It wasn’t all down to the coaches though, as Georgetown didn’t set Ewing up for success. His head coach and a father figure, the late Thompson, wanted him to take over the program. The feel-good story of the prodigal son coming home and actually getting a head coaching opportunity instantly created a new buzz on the show.

But the same problems that led to the end of the John Thompson III era were still in place.

Historically, Georgetown’s head coach has always answered primarily to the university president. So Ewing reported to Jack DeGioia, who has been Georgetown’s president since 2001. Athletic director Lee Reed, who has led the Hoyas since 2010, hasn’t really had the power to run the men’s basketball program.

Sources tell FOX Sports that Reed and the Georgetown board are much more aligned on the next hire and that Reed will have more power in the future of the program.

It will be a big change if it comes to fruition. The Hoya’s problems go beyond who fills the head coaching position, but how the program operates. Too many people have had too much influence in the decisions that have led to the demise of Georgetown basketball.

As for who will be next in DC, sources tell FOX Sports that Penn State’s Micah Shrewsbury, Pitt’s Jeff Capel and Providence’s Ed Cooley are potential candidates to oversee the opening.

Regardless of who it is, it’s a good sign that the school is looking outside of the Georgetown family.

The time has come for the Hoyas to turn over a new leaf. Brighter days are ahead, but changing the way things are will be as important as who is chosen as the next basketball coach.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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