- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Embattled Georgetown basketball coach Craig Esherick has received a vote of confidence from the administration.

University president John J. DeGioia, who met with Esherick on Tuesday, released a statement to The Washington Times yesterday that closed with the following lines:

“I believe that this season’s men’s basketball team and our new class of recruits holds a great deal of promise. I have confidence that Craig Esherick, who helped to build our tradition of excellence in men’s basketball, is the right person to strengthen and lead our program.”

DeGioia’s statement comes at a time when the Hoyas (13-13, 4-11 Big East) are in the program’s worst losing streak (seven games) in more than 30 years and snuffs speculation that the sixth-year coach might be ousted after the season.

“Unbelievable. That blows me away,” said ESPN basketball insider Andy Katz upon hearing DeGioia’s statement. “The word that I’ve been using for Georgetown basketball, and I think it’s the right word, is the program has become irrelevant. They don’t matter anymore. It’s sort of been a slow bleed under Esherick, and now nobody cares about GU hoops — maybe that includes the administration.”

That apathy certainly doesn’t extend to the school’s student body. Chants of “Fire Esherick” have become a staple at home games this season. A spray-painted version of that sentiment appeared on Key Bridge near the campus last Thursday.

Senior Jeremy Lundblad of the student newspaper, “The Hoya,” called for Esherick’s resignation in his column last week. And yesterday, 83 out of 100 student respondents to a poll taken on campus by The Washington Times thought the school should replace Esherick — who is under contract through 2009 — after this season.

“Something’s got to be done,” said John Gantt, a senior in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. “And the problems don’t end with Esherick. I mean, last year our athletic director [Joe Lang] said it was unreasonable for us to expect to routinely make the NCAA tournament. Where’s the pursuit of excellence that’s supposedly a hallmark of this university in that comment?

“The success of the basketball program used to be a major part of our national image. What are we known for now? Our academic ranking’s down. Our endowment’s down. And our hoops team looks like it’s down and out. When’s the last time we won a big game — two, three years ago?”

In fact, Georgetown has lost 22 straight games against teams in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index, a streak of futility against NCAA tournament-caliber teams dating to a victory over the Irish on Jan.21, 2002. The Hoyas have been to the NCAA tournament once (2001) since Esherick took over from Hall of Fame coach John Thompson on Jan.8, 1999. They have the fourth worst record in league games (41-56) among the Big East’s 12 teams during Esherick’s tenure.

And this season’s squad is struggling like none in the modern history of the program.

The current seven-game skid is the school’s longest since 1971-72, when the Hoyas finished 3-23 under coach Jack Magee in the last season before Thompson’s arrival. Georgetown is guaranteed to finish this season with the program’s worst Big East record since the league began in 1979-80. And the Hoyas need a victory over Virginia Tech tomorrow at MCI Center or a Miami loss at home to West Virginia to qualify for next week’s Big East tournament.

Even if the Hoyas make it to Madison Square Garden next week, the program’s run of 29 consecutive postseason invitations is likely to end. Georgetown needs at least one more victory to become eligible for the NIT. But between the program’s diminished status and its controversial decision to decline an NIT bid in 2002, even a pair of stretch-run victories might not be enough to get the Hoyas in.

“The NIT wants no part of Georgetown after what happened two years ago,” said one source close to the selection committee. “They were a must-take last year, because they had an All-American in Mike Sweetney and a much higher RPI. This year the Hoyas aren’t nearly as attractive, and the NIT is the last place they can expect an extended hand when they’re down, given what happened two years ago.

“I don’t see Georgetown getting an NIT bid if they’re only a game over .500. That’s amazing isn’t it? Georgetown has even alienated the NIT.”

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