- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

For the first time in three decades, Georgetown may go outside its blue-and-gray family to find the program’s next basketball coach.

University president John J. DeGioia reiterated in a rare interview yesterday that filling Georgetown’s vacancy is considered a “national search.” DeGioia fired Craig Esherick late Tuesday night after a 13-15 season.

“It’s an open and national search, and the search begins immediately,” DeGioia said from San Francisco, where he was scheduled to speak last night. “It has to unfold as soon as possible to be to everybody’s advantage.”

If Georgetown goes outside its family, that would eliminate Patrick Ewing, who is an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets; Princeton coach John Thompson III, eldest son of Georgetown’s Hall of Fame coach; current Hoyas assistant Jaren Jackson, a former player who is credited with recruiting Georgetown’s impressive incoming freshman class; and Georgetown Prep coach and former Hoya Dwayne Bryant.

“Georgetown is a place that is special to me,” said Thompson III, who is in Denver for Princeton’s first-round NCAA tournament game tonight against Texas. “I want them to have success. But for nine years I’ve been here at Princeton. Your energy and attention is focused on what you’re doing. I feel bad for Craig. It’s a difficult situation. But at the same time I have a group of guys that have worked extremely hard. That’s where all my energy is focused.”

Possible national candidates include Duke assistant and District native Johnny Dawkins; former Seton Hall coach and well-traveled NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo; Virginia Commonwealth coach Jeff Capel III; former Boston Celtics coach Jim O’Brien; Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez; and Gonzaga coach Mark Few.

Meanwhile, former coach Thompson — who led the Hoyas to 20 NCAA tournaments in 27 seasons and a national title in 1984 — said on his daily WTEM-AM radio show that “I have absolutely no intention of going back to Georgetown to be a coach.”

While not passing judgment on Esherick’s firing, Thompson was obviously downcast during his broadcast and said he considered not showing up at all.

“I know that it was not easy to follow me,” said Thompson, who quit during the 1998-99 season for personal reasons. “Craig knew it, and he did not have an easy job to carry out. I also know it was very difficult being me.”

DeGioia said Georgetown’s search committee will be a two-man operation consisting of an unnamed member of the university’s board of directors and Frank Rienzo, Georgetown’s former athletic director and one of the founding fathers of the Big East Conference.

According to DeGioia, the committee will identify candidates and set up their interviews with himself and athletic director Joe Lang.

“The person we’re looking for will embody the value of the program and offer the best education for our students,” DeGioia said.

Further complicating the search is the university’s budgetary issues and ongoing losses in the men’s basketball program that may eliminate high-profile, top-dollar candidates like Carlesimo.

According to U.S. Department of Education figures, Georgetown’s men’s basketball program reported $814,758 in losses in 2002-03. In addition to the men’s basketball program, Georgetown faces a $35.3million deficit this year because of ongoing losses with its medical center.

As a result of its budgetary crisis, numerous construction projects have been put on hold. Georgetown’s dire financial situation, and the need to pay off Esherick, could force many attractive candidates off the list.

None of the previous 16 coaches in Georgetown’s basketball history came to the program with any prior college head coaching experience.

Esherick’s firing came on the eve of a planned protest rally by concerned alumni and students incensed over the direction the basketball program had taken under Esherick. An estimated 30 to 40 people attended yesterday’s rally, and despite Esherick’s termination, the underlying theme was that more work needs to be done to return the program to national prominence.

DeGioia said the timing of Esherick’s firing was purely coincidental on the day before the rally.

“Do you think [school administrators] heard us? They heard us, we made a difference, we don’t want to see the basketball program as irrelevant,” rally organizer Steven Thomas said over a bullhorn to the assembled group.

Thomas, who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Georgetown, said firing Esherick was one step in the right direction.

Yesterday’s rally was smaller than expected. Thomas speculated that most people thought the rally had been canceled once they heard that Esherick had been fired.

“It was nice to see that people still came out — it was a good step,” said Georgetown sophomore Tim Foley, from Greenwich, Conn. “We need a new direction, but maybe the new direction is just going backwards [keeping it in the family], which could be a good thing. There are so many coaches we could possibly go to. I think we need a fresh face in there, maybe somebody that has a Georgetown heritage, and we need some new energy involved. There’s a fan base out there, we just have to do something to energize it.”

Staff writer Jon Siegel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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