What a college basketball coach does when he sees his job become a dead end is the same thing a mechanic, newspaperman or truck driver does. He looks for another job. He looks for a chance to do his thing the way he wants to do it. That's why John Thompson, the Georgetown University coach, is talking to the University of Florida athletic director Thursday. Florida's basketball job is open and Thompson is at a dead end.
He won't say that. He leaves it to his friends to say Georgetown basketball is at a dead end. His friends will tell you that Thompson is tired of being promised a new basketball arena that is never delivered. He is tired of seeing blueprints for this mirage/arena. And it gets worse every time he drives up in front of McDonough Arena.
McDonough, where Georgetown plays its home games, is a ridiculous place to play bigtime college basketball. One assumes the powers that be at Georgetown are delighted with their basketball team's ascension into the elite of America. No dissenting voices have been heard. On the contrary, we regularly hear John Thompson's name bandied about on the unversity's behalf. The coach, we hear, is a tall and dignified symbol of what Georgetown University is a quest for excellence.
McDonough Arena is a symbol of, to be kind, benign neglect.
"It's stupidity, is what it is," said a man who knows how Thompson thinks.
McDonough Arena seats 4,000-people.
In a dazzling world of big-time basketball palaces -- Kentucky has 23,000 seats, Indiana 17,000, Maryland 14,500, Florida is moving into a 12,000-seat arena -- McDonough Arena is a laughable relic whose very existence says the school doesn't care all that much about basketball.
And every time John Thompson drives up in front of the arena he sees behind it another reminder of the dead end he is facing. Behind the museum/relic/gym is a brand new building called the Yates Field House, which is a giant building for intramural athletics. It has four basketball courts, eight tennis courts, a swimming pool, squash and racquetball courts, saunas and heaven knows what else. There is a running track and an artificial turf football field on the roof of the building.
Yates cost $7.5 million.
What John Thompson wonders is why, if the university wanted to put up that kind of building, it didn't include his basketball program in the plans?
Basketball coaches, we have to remember, are intensely competitive people who often see enemies where none lurk.
But if you're John Thompson and your university is patting you on the back of creating a top 20-caliber basketball program and you're asking for a new place to play and all they do is show you blueprints even as they spend $7.5 million to build a place where you can't play -- well, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
So John Thompson meets Thursday with Florida.
Some basketball people in Florida believe Norm Sloan, the North Carolina State coach and former Florida coach, has the job is he wants it. Those same people, though, said the same things about Duke's Bill Foster and Purdue's Lee Rose, who turned out to be not interested.
From an original list of 20-25 coaches, Florida has narrowed it to a dozen or so names and wants to be down to five men within 10 days, with a coach named by March 1 if the team isn't involved in postseason tournaments.
You want to know how bad Florida basketball has been?
In 60 seasons, it has won 20 games once.
In 60 seasons, it has played in one postseason tournament, the National Invitation Touranament. It has never been in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida basketball is so-bad that its team plays in the worst gymnasium in the Southeastern Conference. It also has the poorest record, 5-16, in the league.
That gymnasium seats 5,500 people.
It is McDonough South.
But now Florida has fired its coach, John Lotz, and is looking for "an established head coach, and it would be good if he has a big name," Richard Giannini, associate athletic director, said.
"I don't see Thompson as a name that the Florida alumni, who will have a say, will recognize," said a man who makes his living at basketball in Florida. "In educated basketball circles, we know who John Thompson is and how good he is. But in Florida they don't know Georgetown from George Washington."
That's exactly the dead end John Thompson faces.
With a 4,000-seat museum/relic/ gym, Thompson recruits in a conference with, say a Syracuse -- tonight's opponent, ranked No. 2 in the country -- that is leaving a 9,000-seat arena after this season to play in a 23,000-seat place.
McDonough against 23,000 seats is a mismatch.
It is a dead end for Georgetown basketball.
Which is why John Thompson, who loves Washington, is talking to a man from Florida.
And if Norm Sloan takes the job, well, that leaves the North Carolina State job open. And if Bill Foster leaves Duke for South Carolina, as he is expected to, then it won't be long before we see John Thompson talking to some more people.