Georgetown fired men’s basketball coach John Thompson III on Thursday, ending speculation about what the school would do with a coach enveloped in the program’s legacy.
Thompson waded through back-to-back losing seasons and his team closed 2017 with six losses amid “Fire Thompson!” chants before his dismissal.
“It is with profound regret and deep appreciation that I informed John Thompson III this morning that the University will no longer be retaining his services as our Head Men’s Basketball Coach,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia said in a statement. “For thirteen years, he has been one of the elite coaches in college basketball. His performance as a coach has been exceptional, and he has served our community with remarkable distinction and integrity, sustaining our commitment to the academic performance of our students and providing them with the very best preparation for their lives beyond the Hilltop.
“Our tradition of excellence as a University will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family.”
Georgetown fan Web site Casual Hoya was first to report Thompson’s dismissal.
Dynamics between the person in charge of a school’s most prevalent athletics program and the university can often be complicated. Georgetown was in the intricate, unique and unenviable position of determining how to proceed with Thompson, whose father, John Thompson Jr., remains a visible and looming presence after pulling the program to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.
Last fall, the school unveiled the John Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center, stocked with new practice courts, new lockers and multiple nods to Georgetown’s legacy, which was nurtured and developed by the 75 year old. Under a large tent in September of 2014, the school held a ground-breaking ceremony for the facility which was attended by many of the program’s luminaries: Alonzo Mourning, Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo and more. Thompson Jr. and his son spoke about what the basketball program meant, silver shovels were dug into the dirt and the old was ready to embrace the new.
Two years later, Thompson’s son is out as the leader of the program. Georgetown was 15-18 in 2016 and its 7-11 record in the Big East Conference sent it to eighth place. For the first time in Thompson III’s tenure, the Hoyas did not play in the postseason.
Last season was worse. Georgetown’s cataclysmic close led it to ninth place in the Big East and just 14 total wins. Thompson was booed at home and on the road. After the final home game of the season, he was asked if outside chatter about his future was a distraction during the week. He did not answer after a sports information director interjected, asking that questions remain specific to the game.
The last time the Hoyas won fewer games was during the wayward 13-win season of 2004. Then-coach Craig Esherick, who was promoted from assistant to coach when Thompson Jr. resigned, was fired and replaced by Thompson III, who was coming from Princeton, where he guided the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons.
Pressure came with his arrival. His father had not just fought on the basketball court, but was also heavily involved in social issues, swatting aside racists remarks and battling back as he developed the program into one of the nation’s juggernauts. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999, before his son even began to coach at the Div. I level.
“I’m not sure whether the cheerleaders still sing this, but there was a chant, ‘We are Georgetown,’ and I loved that,” said Thompson III when he was hired. “When you say that, it’s the institution, it’s the administration, it’s the community, it’s Washington, D.C., it’s the other teams that are members of the athletic department.
“It’s our program. That’s what we have — a program, not a team. We are Georgetown. Some people have forgotten that we are Georgetown … but we’ll remind them.”
Early results were promising. A 19-win season moved the Hoyas into the NIT. They made it to the Sweet 16 the following season, then rolled into the Final Four in 2007. But, a reversal followed. Georgetown was bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament the following season despite being a No. 2 seed, then jettisoned to the NIT. In 2013, the Hoyas were again a No. 2 seed and again sent out of the tournament by an upstart, Florida Gulf Coast in this case, in the second round.
Georgetown did not make the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons. The back-to-back losing seasons are almost unheard of in the last 45 years of the program. In 1972, when a fledgling independent program, the Hoyas won three games. Thompson Jr. was hired the following season. That team went 12-14 in 1973, marking the last time Georgetown had back-to-back losing seasons and the only time one of his Hoyas teams would be below .500 during his 26 seasons in charge of the program.
“Georgetown basketball has been a part of my life since 1972, which makes this moment even more impactful but I look forward to my next chapter,” Thompson III said in a statement released by his agent, David Falk.
A small protest demanding a change at coach was planned for Friday afternoon after a petition for change signed by roughly 1,400 had gone unanswered. That group and the school will now change their focus to who will be in charge next.