JOHN THOMPSON, Georgetown University's basketball coach, may be headed south. The University of Florida is negotiating with Mr. Thompson about the possibility of his becoming head coach of its team. If Mr. Thompson leaves, the city will be losing a talented native son whose good work went beyond the confines of the basketball court. Georgetown should try very hard to keep him.
Mr. Thompson's work with charities and young basketball players in the city has won him many accolades. But perhaps the best thing about Mr. Thompson is that he is not a nice guy. He is a 6'10" man who rants and raves, chews towels when in high anxiety and squeezes every last ounce of strength from his players, the opposition and even the referees. In one memorable incident, Mr. Thompson had a post-game television interview, waited an hour and only then went on the rampage in the official's locker room, berating a referee who made a call that he felt cost his team the game. A vintage Thompson quote reads: "The world can be a great place . . . if you get it in a hammerlock and force it to be."
As as image for young black men throughout the city -- Mr. Thompson's hard work and achievement have been inspirational. And this is especially true because his success had not been candy-coated. He was a professional back-up center who quit the game to do something else instead of becoming a has-been athlete. He worked hard as a high-school coach to earn a shot at the Georgetown job. And though he does everything he can to win, he has not lost sight of the world beyond the basketball court. He checks his players' grades weekly; he demands that his players call him "Sir" or "Mr. Thompson," in a display of what Mr. Thompson feels is real-world boss-to-worker respect; and he down-plays reporters' cliches that he is a father image to black ballplayers. He says that father-image stuff is an insult to the boys' real parents. Instead, he offers his own image of what it takes for a black to make it: sweat, hard work, some smarts and more sweat.
If Mr. Thompson chooses to take the Florida job, we wish him well. But Georgetown and "Big John" should know that a good number of people who have never been to a college basketball game at Georgetown would really like Mr. Thompson to stay here.