A week after he said he had no interest in the job, Georgetown University's John Thompson now is seriously considering a $120,000 annual package to become basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma because, a friend said, "He doesn't want to be poor any longer."
Even though most of his friends believe he will not leave Washington, Thompson, according to those who should know, is unsure about the biggest decision of his life.
Should he uproot himself, his family and his staff for a program that will offer him almost anything he wants, but a life style in Norman, Okla., that is far different from anything he has ever known? Or should he stay at Georgetown, a school that cannot pay him much more than he now earns in a city he has called home most of his life.
Although he could announce his decision today, friends say he is so up in the air on the matter that he probably won't make up his mind until after arriving in Hawaii for the Aloha Classic, in which he is coaching the East team. He is scheduled to leave for there Sunday.
A week ago in Indianapolis, where he was attending the coaches' convention, Thompson said he was not at all interested in the Oklahoma job. His name was among nine on the list of an OU search committee seeking a replacement for Dave Bliss, who resigned to move to Southern Methodist.
Last Sunday, after Thompson's name was publicly linked to the Oklahoma search, he unsuccessfully tried to call an OU official back to tell him to remove his name from consideration.
That night, a five man OU delegation, headed by the chairman of the OU board of regents and the chairman of the board of Phillips Petroleum Co., arrived in Indianapolis. They called Thompson and asked him to have breakfast with them the next morning. Over bacon and eggs, they asked him to at least visit the campus before saying no.
Thompson passed up the final of the NCAA tournament to fly to Oklahoma City that night with Mary Fenlon, the team's academic adviser. He met with the search committee, was given a grand tour of the campus by football Coach Barry Switzer and was offered the job by Richard Bell, chairman of the OU regents.
"I hadn't realized basketball was that big time," Thompson said upon his return from Norman. And now, he is unsure of what to do at a very delicate time -- the prime of recruiting season.
Thompson always has been portrayed as a man who has never been that concerned about big money, about material possessions. His friends, however, will tell you that the big money Oklahoma is offering -- not to mention a first-class, cash-is-no-object program -- is making him agonize over this decision.
Thompson, who grew up in a public housing project in Washington, knows that Oklahoma would give his family more security than it has ever had. At Georgetown, his total earnings from coaching, summer camps and his role as a consultant to the university president are believed to be in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.
The Georgetown job was Thompson's first full-time coaching job. He had coached St. Anthony's High on a part-time basis while working as director of the 4-H program at Federal City College. At Georgetown, in eight years, he has taken the Hoyas to six straight postseason tournaments, including the NCAA East Regional final this season, completing a 26-6 season. Thompson is now in demand.
"It wouldn't startle me if he left," one Georgetown official said yesterday. "People now are realizing what we've known all along about John as a coach. But we can't get into a bidding war for him. I've realized all along that sometime the right offer at the right place would come along. Whether this is it, I can't say."
And that is exactly what Thompson is trying to decide. Is Norman, Okla., the right place for an outspoken, fiercely independent black coach from a big city?
And, can Thompson exist in a big-time, football-oriented athletic program that has been placed on probation several times by the NCAA over the past decade for recruiting violations?
Some people say the football office runs the University of Oklahoma, not vice versa. Switzer, the man in charge of the football program, gave Thompson his grand tour Tuesday and made a strong impression on him that basketball and football can coexist at the school.
Besides Thompson's initial impression of Switzer, he was taken aback by the coach's answer to an innocent question.
Since Norman is so far from major urban areas where basketball talent is plentiful, Thompson wondered if he would have the use of a private plane in which to go recruiting.
"Yes," Switzer replied. "About 60."
Neither Thompson nor Bell, the regents' head, is taking calls this week. But this much is known about why this unlikely athletic marriage is possible:
Bell has been quoted in Oklahoma as saying that he favored hiring a black coach to replace Bliss. And, according to sources in Oklahoma, Bell runs the regents as a one-man show. He usually gets what he wants. He led the search committee and told the regents Thompson should be their man. His fellow regents agreed.
Thompson is the most qualified candidate. The other names submitted to the regents were Lamar Coach Billy Tubbs, De Paul Assistant Coach Joey Meyer and Kansas Coach Ted Owens, who has said he wanted his name withdrawn from the list.
At one point on his visit to Norman, Thompson received clear evidence of how badly Oklahoma wants his services. After mentioning his dislike of the Tartan court surface, which is used at OU, a university official replied:
"It'll be wood when school starts."