College Basketball
Why Patrick Ewing and Georgetown didn't work, and what must come next
College Basketball

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

Updated Mar. 9, 2023 9:43 p.m. ET

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

There’s a larger-than-life bronze statue.

Inside the team’s practice 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 pinnacle moment in which Patrick Ewing and John Thompson guided Georgetown to glory. 


At this moment, Georgetown University is as far away from those days as it could possibly be. The greatest way to pay tribute to the past is not to attempt 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 a new page and using their significant resources to operate like a present-day 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 holds that distinction because his commitment to Georgetown in 1981 was the whole reason why the conference took its postseason tournament to Madison Square Gardenin the first place.

[Georgetown fires Patrick Ewing; national search underway]

Nobody wants success for Georgetown more than Ewing. 

"It was particularly meaningful to me to be in charge of the basketball program at my alma mater," he said in the school’s press release. "I wish the program nothing but success. I will always be a Hoya."

So what went wrong? 

Ewing had the x’s and o’s 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 upon. He brought in some highly-touted recruits, reeling in a top-35 freshman class with James Akinjo, Mac McClung and Josh LeBlanc in 2018.

But all three of those players transferred away, as did many others. In total, Ewing lost 18 players to the transfer portal over the course of five offseasons. He struggled to maintain relationships with 18-22-year-olds, something that past NBA greats have also dealt with when they’ve given college coaching a crack.

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

Player retention also comes with having a good staff, and that’s where the systematic issues with Georgetown begin. 

Ewing had a group around him — Robert Kirby, Akbar Waheed and the late Louis Orr — that was past its prime. An overhaul came last season, with former LSU assistant Kevin Nickelberry as the recruiting chip joined by former UW-Milwaukee head coach Pat Baldwin and assistant Clinton Crouch. But it was too little, too late. The after-effects of a winless season were still present, and Georgetown lacked leadership.

It wasn't all on the coaches, though, as Georgetown didn't really set up Ewing to succeed. 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 fresh buzz around the program. 

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

Historically, the Georgetown head coach has always answered mainly to the university president. So Ewing reported to Jack DeGioia, who has been the president at Georgetown since 2001. Athletic director Lee Reed, who’s led the Hoyas since 2010, has not 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. 

That will be a big shift if it comes to fruition. The Hoyas’ issues go beyond whoever holds the head coach job, but how the program is operated. Too many people have had too much influence on decisions that have led to Georgetown basketball’s demise. 

As far as who comes next in D.C., sources tell FOX Sports that Penn State’s Micah Shrewsbury, Pitt’s Jeff Capel and Providence’s Ed Cooley are potential candidates to monitor for the opening.

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

It’s time for the Hoyas to completely turn a new leaf. Brighter days are ahead, but changing how things are down will be just as important as whoever is chosen as the next basketball coach.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport 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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