The firing of a longtime coach usually signals the end of an era for a team. When Georgetown ended its 13-year relationship with coach John Thompson III on March 17, the legacy of one of the most powerful names in D.C. sports came to a shocking end.
Neither John Thompson Jr. (left) nor John Thompson III (right) will be on the sidelines as Georgetown’s basketball coach next season. Thompson III was fired March 17. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
Thompson’s father, John Thompson Jr., took charge at “the Hilltop” in 1972, and over the following 26 years built Georgetown into one of the iconic brands in college basketball. Hoya basketball was defined by the hulking figure wearing a towel on shoulders broad enough to both stand for social change on the sidelines and lead his teams to victory.
Following the five-year term of Craig Esherick, the mantle passed to John Thompson III, the legend’s eldest son, in 2004. Thompson III left his alma mater at Princeton to restore glory to the program his father built, and the first three years of the JT III era was Camelot. The transition from father to son seemed to be perfect.
By 2007, the Hoyas had won the “original” Big East Conference’s regular season and tournament championships, an achievement as important for them as it was for the conference. Having the D.C. media market back and relevant improved the Big East’s TV ratings at a time when the ACC was annexing big-market programs.
The JT III era peaked in March 2007 when local players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert led the Hoyas to the Final Four. Ohio State proved too much for Georgetown that Saturday, but nonetheless, things were blissful. With a Thompson at the helm, order was restored to the mighty Hoya tradition.
However, the 2008 NCAA Tournament was the beginning of the end for the Thompson legacy at Georgetown. In the second half of their matchup against Davidson, a future NBA superstar was born. A little-known guard—Steph Curry, now of the Golden State Warriors—erupted for 30 points to upset the Hoyas in a 74-70 loss
The loss ignited a stretch of five years, from 2009 to 2014, during which Georgetown were projected to be Big East and NCAA championship contenders, but didn’t live up to expectations. The 2009 team started 12-3 but lost 11 of their final 15 games and missed the NCAA Tournament.
Over the next four years, Georgetown returned to its place amongst the Big East’s elite. Despite their inability to win a conference regular season or tournament championship, Thompson III’s teams consistently won between 21 and 25 games but were eliminated by lower seeds.
After 2008, the Hoyas never advanced beyond the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. As a No. 3 seed in 2010, Georgetown was upset in the first round by No. 14 Ohio. A year later, they were a No. 6 seed and lost to No. 11 VCU in their opening game of the tournament. Georgetown finished 24-9 and were again a No. 3 seed in 2012, but eventually lost to No. 11 North Carolina State. In 2013, the Hoyas finished 25-7 and claimed a No. 2 seed, but were upset by No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast in an epic first-round collapse.
Between 2014 and this year, Thompson III missed the NCAA Tournament in three of four seasons. Current Georgetown players are transferring and NBA scouts say they aren’t ready to be pros. In addition, the Hoyas have lost their local recruiting base.
All of these facts are unacceptable for an athletic program funded primarily by its men’s basketball team. Their next coach, whether they are found inside “the family” or not, must rebuild both on the floor and off. Now at a crossroads, Georgetown faces its most critical hiring choice since John Thompson Jr. The iconic name will remain on the university’s new athletic facility, but won’t be on the sidelines anymore.