- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

I don't know how good a basketball coach Craig Esherick is he has his share of detractors despite a winning record in his four years as Georgetown's honcho of hoops but I do know one thing.
He's a heck of an actor.
In fact, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, et al, should make room for Craig. Or maybe Steven Seagal, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ozzy Osbourne should.
In his own racket, such volatile sideline performers as Maryland's Gary Williams. Texas Tech's Bobby Knight and Temple's John Chaney are practically disciples of the famously imperturbable John Wooden when it comes to performing. Compared to Esherick anyway.
I say this because Esherick has opened at least two postgame news conferences this season by describing game officials in the same tone Al Gore might use on Florida voters.
The reason, as all Hoyas fans know, is that Mike Sweetney, one of the western world's better college power forwards, is regularly beaten about the head, shoulders and other body parts in the paint. Opponents don't do this because of any personal dislike for Sweetney but because he pretty much is the Hoyas this season. With him, they're possible Big East title contenders. Without him, they're not much better than a .500 team.
Actor Esherick's unsubtle shots about the zebras have one purpose to persuade them to toot their whistles a little more often when the other guys gang up on Sweetney. Though I certainly wouldn't question Craig's sincerity how could I when he also is a lawyer his tirades aren't exactly impromptu. I can't calculate how calculated they are, but my best guess is, quite a bit.
Following the Hoyas' 79-75 defeat at Virginia on Dec.28, Esherick took a fairly restrained rap at the officials, saying, "I think it's interesting that the Big Ten can even think of suspending [Indiana coach] Mike Davis for six games for running out on the floor, and I have to keep my mouth shut after the job one particular ref did today. … I'm not allowed to say a word, and it bothers the heck out of me."
The next time Esherick encountered what he considered refereeing malfeasance, he flung caution far beyond the winds. After an 84-82 win against West Virginia in Georgetown's conference opener Jan.12, he arrived at an array of microphones and notebooks in full yowl, saying among other rants and raves "I'll pay for any official who wants to come to Washington, D.C., and sit in the post and take what Mike has to take." Esherick then spent some time screaming at Art Hyland, the Big East's director of officiating, in a hallway leading to the Hoyas' locker room.
I overheard part of this performance, and I'm here to tell you Sir Laurence Olivier or Richard Burton couldn't have touched Esherick as he proclaimed, in effect, "How long, O Lord, how long?" (Hyland's basic response: "Yeah, but …")
Surprisingly make that astonishingly conference commissioner Mike Tranghese declined to suspend Esherick because "such behavior isn't characteristic of Craig." Of course, the season has a long way to go, and he may be bucking for an honorary Academy Award, or maybe an ESPY.
"And now the award for the best performance by a college basketball coach in a dramatic role may I have the envelope, please. Oh, wait, there's only one nominee …"
Just when it appeared that some media outlets might cover only the Hoyas' postgame news conferences and others might start sending entertainment reporters, Esherick pulled a switch. (All great actors like to play against type, sort of like Denzel Washington in "Training Day.") Last Saturday, after Georgetown's 65-64 loss to No.2 Pitt in another game when the enemy hammered Sweetney hither, thither and yon, the coach announced that he w
ould not be launching a verbal tirade.
"You're not going to see a performance today," he said, adding, "I love the referees. I love all referees. If a man came in here, with a striped shirt, I
'd hug him."
"And the award for the season's most sarcastic remarks by a Division I coach goes to … here's that man again, folks!"
Despite his many talents, Esherick may not quite equal predecessor John Thompson's 27-year run on the Hilltop. Though his overall record heading into tonight's MCI Center date with Seton Hall is 81-49 largely collected against an assortment of November and December pastries some alumni could be grumbling about the Hoyas' lack of success in close games.
In what amounts to four full seasons since Thompson's startling resignation in January 1999, Esherick's Hoyas are 11-16 in games decided by three or fewer points which isn't exactly the way Big John got into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. And until this month's win over West Virginia in overtime which the more talented Hoyas reached only with a last-second 3-pointer in regulation Esherick's teams were 0-5 in OT.
Georgetown's administration appears satisfied with Esherick, who reportedly will get a two-year contract extension any day now. True, he's not John Thompson, but then again nobody else is either.
But if he and Georgetown ever decide to part company, it's nice that Esherick has two careers to fall back on or maybe just one if he combines law and acting by joining the cast of "The Practice." When it comes to emoting, the man's a Hall of Famer for sure.


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