Tuesday, May 8, 2001

George Washington couldn’t even get its women’s basketball coach to take the men’s job. What does that tell you about the state of the program?

Just two years removed from back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, the Colonials seem to have lost their way. Tom Penders has been forced out because of diminishing returns, several players have been caught making unauthorized long-distance calls at university expense and another player still faces multiple charges stemming from an alleged rape.

Kinda makes you long for the good old days of Richie Parker, doesn’t it?

And now we have Joe McKeown, coach of the highly successful women’s team, opting not to take the school up on its offer to coach the men’s team. It was a decision that spoke volumes about the men’s game, the women’s game and McKeown himself.

Simply put, coaching women’s college basketball these days ain’t half-bad. The pay is good, the pressure to win isn’t nearly as great and the off-court problems are much more manageable. Why would McKeown, a family man, give all that up to try to straighten out Penders’ mess? It’s not the percentage move, and Joe didn’t get to be where he is by being a dummy.

That said, I would have loved to see him take a shot at it. The lack of recognition in women’s hoops drives him crazy at times never more so than in 1997, when he led GW to the Elite Eight. How many people can name even one player on that team? (Here’s five off the top of my head: Tajama Abraham, Noelia Gomez, Lisa Cermignano, Colleen McCrea and Marlo Egleston.) If he coached the men, he would have columnists like me hanging on his every word.

Well, maybe every other word.

Seriously, how much farther can McKeown realistically expect to take the women’s program? Perhaps he looks at Southwest Missouri State in the Final Four and thinks: We can do that. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for him to do it.

With McKeown unwilling to make the switch, GW has turned to Karl Hobbs, who has been keeping Jim Calhoun company on the Connecticut bench for the past eight seasons. It’s hard not to notice the parallels between Hobbs and dearly departed Mike Jarvis. Both are undersized battlers. (Hobbs was a four-year starter at point guard for the Huskies in the early ‘80s.) Jarvis even coached Hobbs in high school at Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge & Latin, and both of them apprenticed at Boston University.

Since UConn won the NCAA title in ‘99, Hobbs has been a perpetual coaching candidate. Fordham, Manhattan, Tulane, New Orleans, Baylor, Washington State, Oregon State all had varying degrees of interest in him. Hartford even offered him a job, but he turned it down.

He was in the running for the opening at American a year ago, but the school chose Jeff Jones. He was a finalist at Siena around the same time, but Louis Orr was hired. He was up for the post at Drexel earlier this year, but it went to Bruiser Flint.

Yup, George Washington’s new basketball coach is a guy AU, Siena and Drexel all passed on. Hmmm.

Here’s something else to consider: GW’s last three coaches Penders, Jarvis and John Kuester all had been head coaches before. (And Penders and Jarvis had taken teams to the NCAAs.) Hobbs has never headed a college program. In fact, he was only the No. 2 assistant at Connecticut, behind Dave Leiteo. Double hmmm.

I’d feel a lot better about this hire if Hobbs was from somewhere other than New England you know, just for a change of pace. GW likes to think of itself as a worldly place, but you wouldn’t know that from its basketball program. VP Bob Chernak, who oversees athletics, came from Hartford (with school president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg). Athletic director Jack Kvancz played at Boston College. Assistant AD Dom Perno played and coached at UConn. Penders played at UConn and coached at Rhode Island. Jarvis was a Bostonian through and through. And now GW has returned to the Happy Hunting Ground for Hobbs.

It’s all very chummy. A regular New England mafia. (And let’s not forget: Penders and Kvancz were boyhood buddies, and Hobbs captained one of Perno’s UConn teams.)

I don’t envy Hobbs, though. Penders didn’t leave much in the cupboard other than Chris Monroe. The new coach is said to be a fine recruiter he once recruited a kid for UConn who had a State of Minnesota tattoo on his shoulder (Khalid El-Amin) and he’ll need to be to get the Colonials back to where they were in the ‘90s. Still, things will probably get worse for GW basketball before they get better. Even if Hobbs really is the second coming of Mike Jarvis.

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