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Patrick Ewing out at Georgetown after program bottoms out

Patrick Ewing is out as head coach at Georgetown. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Georgetown parted ways with Patrick Ewing as men’s basketball coach, the university announced Thursday. A national search for his replacement has begun.

The coaching tenure of Ewing, perhaps the school’s most decorated player, came to an unceremonious end after six seasons and a 75-109 record. The Hoyas finished this season 7-25 and just 2-18 in the Big East before a 32-point loss to Villanova on Wednesday in the conference tournament. They also endured a 29-game conference losing streak that spanned two seasons.

“Patrick Ewing is the heart of Georgetown basketball,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful to Coach Ewing for his vision, his determination, and for all that he has enabled Georgetown to achieve. Over these past six years, he was tireless in his dedication to his team and the young men he coached and we will forever be grateful to Patrick for his courage and his leadership in our Georgetown community.”

The Hoyas ended the 2021-22 season with a 6-25 record while suffering a program-worst 21-game losing streak. They became the first team in Big East history to go 0-19 in conference play.

“I am very proud to be a graduate of Georgetown University,” Ewing said in a statement. “And I am very grateful to President DeGioia for giving me the opportunity to achieve my ambition to be a head basketball coach. It is particularly meaningful to me to be in charge of the basketball program at my alma mater. I wish the program nothing but success. I will always be a Hoya.”

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Ewing enacted massive changes to the roster and coaching staff during the offseason with hopes of altering the spiraling program. The five top scorers from the 2021-22 season left the program, and 10 players from that roster are no longer with the team. Nine newcomers joined, and recruiting website 247Sports ranked the Hoyas’ seven-player transfer class fourth in the nation.

The Hoyas hired Kevin Nickelberry from LSU and named him associate head coach, Pat Baldwin came in from Wisconsin Milwaukee, and fellow assistant Clinton Crouch was promoted. Longtime assistant Louis Orr, who recently died after battling cancer, was moved off the bench and named special assistant to the head coach.

Ewing returned to Georgetown as arguably its most famous alum looking to resurrect the program after years of mediocrity, but things only got worse. John Thompson III took the program to eight NCAA tournaments in 13 seasons, but Georgetown made the tournament just once in six seasons under Ewing, going on an unexpected run to win the 2021 Big East tournament to earn its bid. That was the highlight of Ewing’s tenure and he was given a three-year extension afterward, according to multiple reports.

“I’ve taken responsibility as the head of this program for last year’s season,” Ewing said at media day before the season. “When you don’t accomplish the things that you set out for, changes have to be made. Changes were made both on my staff and also with the players. … You have to make changes when things don’t go well. And I think that the guys that we have brought in have done a great job so far in trying to get us back to where we need to get to.”

How the partnership between Ewing — the coach — and Georgetown would play out seemed to be a delicate situation. Ewing led the most successful run in program history as a player and always had a strong relationship with beloved iconic coach John Thompson Jr., who died in August 2020. Thompson III was vastly more successful and was fired after his only two losing seasons, just two years after the Hoyas advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Athletic Director Lee Reed released a statement March 2, 2022, that acknowledged “high standards and expectations” and the “disappointment of a difficult season.”

“In this ever evolving landscape of college athletics we are committed to Coach Ewing,” Reed wrote, “and we are working with him to evaluate every aspect of the men’s basketball program and to make the necessary changes for him to put us back on the path to success for next year.

“Coach Ewing’s dedication as well as his success in last year’s BIG EAST Tournament is a testament to his leadership. This gives us confidence that he can strengthen our program going forward.”

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Reed put out another statement Jan. 4, before the Hoyas lost their Big East record setting 25th consecutive conference game.

“We recognize this is a challenging and frustrating time for the men’s basketball team and our fans,” Reed said then. “Coach Ewing understands that it is imperative to get the program back on track and no one is more committed than he is to making that happen.”

Ewing responded after the loss that “I’m here to be the head coach at Georgetown until the president or the board decides for me to move on. But until that time — a friend of mine sent me a quote today: ‘It’s not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you get up.’ ”

The Georgetown job was Ewing’s first as head coach on any level after angling for that position in the NBA for years. He was an assistant in the league for 15 years before being hired in April 2017.

Ewing was a three-time consensus all-American at Georgetown and led the program to the 1984 national championship, being named most outstanding player of that tournament. He was the No. 1 overall selection by the New York Knicks in 1985 after the first NBA draft lottery. The accolades piled up during 17 NBA seasons as he was part of the Olympic gold medal-winning Dream Team and was recently named to the league’s 75th anniversary team.

The past several years were rife with issues surrounding the program, though some were beyond Ewing’s control. The 2019-20 season ended with seven consecutive losses as five players transferred between December 2019 and May 2020. Those transfers included leading scorer Mac McClung and 2018-19 Big East freshman of the year James Akinjo. The Hoyas lost top rebounder and No. 2 scorer Qudus Wahab to area rival Maryland via transfer before the 2021-22 season (he then transferred back before the start of this season).

The pandemic was particularly harsh on the program. Ewing tested positive for the coronavirus twice, including what he called a scary battle that left him hospitalized in May 2020. Six games were postponed or canceled in 2020-21. Four straight games were canceled last season, starting Dec. 22, and the Hoyas never won another regular season game.

There was hope coming off the Big East tournament title and a recruiting class ranked 16th in the nation by recruiting site 247Sports, including five-star McDonald’s all-American Aminu Mohammed and four-star Ryan Mutombo, son of former Georgetown star Dikembe Mutombo. Mohammed led the team in scoring and rebounding and was named to the Big East all-freshman team before heading to the NBA.

None of that was enough to mitigate the free fall of 2021-22 and Ewing’s eventual departure.