College Basketball’s Coaching Carousel: A new era at Georgetown begins while a brief one ends at George Mason

Ed Cooley introduced as the new head coach for the Georgetown men’s basketball team. (WTOP/Dave Preston)

There’s a new era underway at Georgetown.

Even though it’s not one of John Thompson Jr.’s assistants, sons, or players taking over, there remains a connection to the Hall of Famer — who turned a small Jesuit school into the center of men’s college basketball in the 1980s.

Providence-born Ed Cooley was influenced by Thompson’s pioneering career and was first drawn to college hoops on the TV when the Hoyas dominated the Big East and national landscape.

So despite having a great situation at Providence, Cooley left his dream job for an opportunity to bring a once-proud program back to its previous heights.

“I’m so excited to be here, I’m telling you, this place is special. It has an ‘it’ factor, and everybody says ‘what is it?’. Don’t know, but it’s here,” Cooley said at his introductory press conference. “And you can feel it in the room, you can smell it in the room, you can touch it in the room. We have an opportunity to make this Hoya nation special.”

The program is coming off of a stretch where they have gone 2-37 in conference, even though they won the Big East Tournament in 2021.

Still, as FOX Sports College Basketball reporter John Fanta told me after the press conference: “This is Georgetown. At its best, and I really do believe this, I would put Georgetown on par with Connecticut in terms of the jobs in the Big East Conference because of their history and what both programs have stood for at different periods of college basketball.”

The work to build the foundation began when Cooley’s media and alumni responsibilities ended Wednesday. As someone who went 15-7 against the Hoyas in his tenure (with wins in seven of their last nine meetings) at a fellow Big East school, he has a bit of an edge as he knows the current roster-even after players hit the transfer portal.

“First and foremost I need to learn what this area is about,” Cooley said. “You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play that fit you as a coach. We need to find players who can play for me that can attend Georgetown, and not the other way around.”

It’ll be easier said than done.

Longtime voice of the Hoyas Rich Chvotkin has seen a 21st century where Craig Esherick, John Thompson III, and Patrick Ewing have each enjoyed some success but faltered as well and knows what’s next.

“He’s gotta establish himself in the recruiting game. With this portal situation the way it is today, you’ve gotta go out and get players,” Chvotkin said. “Yeah, you have to be able to coach, but you have to get the kids to coach. So he’s gotta go out and get players-he understands what this is all about, he’s been involved with the Big East and the national landscape for all of these years as a head coach so he knows the type of player that he wants that’s gonna make this program go.”

Cooley comes to Georgetown after 12 years at Providence where he won 242 games and led the school to seven NCAA Tournaments and two NIT berths (they would have made the tournament in 2020 were it not for COVID-19). While the Hoyas haven’t posted a winning Big East record since 2015, the Friars have finished in the top four six times in those eight years.

So even if you take into account Cooley’s postseason record (9-10 in the Big East Tournament and 3-7 in the NCAA’s), this move represents an upgrade, at least to one local writer.

“I think bottom line though: good coach, with a system, finding players that fit the system,” said Washington Post college basketball contributor Patrick Stevens. “It really isn’t more complicated than that a lot of the time, at least to get to a point where you’re competitive and in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament.”

Cooley has connections with a coach already in the area. He competed with Maryland’s Kevin Willard while the two were leading programs in the MAAC (Fairfield and Iona from 2007-10) and Big East (Providence and Seton Hall from 2011-22) for 14 of the last 16 seasons. Does this mean that the two schools inside the beltway that have met just four times this century (and five times since 1980) will start playing again?

“Kevin and I will talk about it,” Cooley said. “If it’s good for the DMV area, if it’s good for the District, but more importantly if it’s good for us. I’m not just playing because you’re up the street: it’s gotta have a purpose for Georgetown.”

While Georgetown fills its vacancy with Providence’s former coach, Ed Cooley’s former school creates an opening in the D.C. area by hiring Kim English away from George Mason University. In two years at the Atlantic 10 school, he posted a 34-29 mark, including this year’s record of 20-13, which was the Patriots’ best finish since they were in the CAA. Only 11 years removed from being named the Big 12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player (helping lead Missouri to the title), English is the Head Coach at a Power Six school.

“What’s impressed me about him is that he is a really good recruiter,” Fanta said. “At Providence, you’ve gotta recruit. Because you’re in the New England corridor. Fact is, UConn’s right down the road and they have more: they’re a state school. So at Providence, you’ve gotta be able to get kids-you’ve gotta be able to work tirelessly.”

While English has a challenge ahead of him to maintain the Friars’ recent run under Cooley, the school he leaves has its work cut out for itself as George Mason is already going through a transition at Athletic Director after Brad Edwards stepped down in October.

“I think that’s a complicating factor for sure over there in Fairfax,” Stevens said. “If you don’t have that sort of leadership in place, you’re asking a coach to take a leap of faith there to be able to jump into that situation. This is not a great time for George Mason to have this job come open.”

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Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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