The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

To tip off a new era at Georgetown, Ed Cooley promises a national title

Ed Cooley is the first coach at Georgetown without a direct link to John Thompson Jr. since the Hoyas rose to national prominence under the late program architect. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Ed Cooley was nearing the end of an energetic and charismatic introductory news conference when the new coach of the Georgetown men’s basketball team made a promise that drew the loudest of many ovations Wednesday.

Speaking in the John Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center, just steps from a towering statue of his childhood idol and professional mentor, Cooley promised to deliver the Hoyas an NCAA tournament title following a lengthy downturn that included record losing over the past two seasons.

“I need you to envision, from our former players to our current players to our future players, having a net around our neck,” he said. “Hearing that ‘One Shining Moment.’ Jim Nantz isn’t going to be there anymore because he’s retiring … but Ian Eagle’s going to be talking to me at some point really, really soon when Georgetown wins the national championship.”

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Before the guarantee that’s sure to accompany him throughout the rest of his time with the Hoyas, Cooley, 53, had to collect himself for a few moments when asked about being next in line at a program whose architect was the first Black coach to win an NCAA tournament title.

Cooley grew up watching the Hoyas at the arc of their supremacy, when they advanced to three Final Fours in four seasons, highlighted by the national championship in 1984. Those Hoyas featured Patrick Ewing, the most decorated player in school history whom Cooley replaced as coach.

Additional symmetry about Cooley’s arrival at Georgetown was inescapable. Thompson, the Hoyas’ coach from 1972 to 1999, was a standout center at Providence, where Cooley spent the previous 12 seasons, including being named national coach of the year for 2021-22.

Cooley was in touch with Ewing and both of Thompson’s sons — John III, the Hoyas’ coach from 2004 to 2017, and Ronny — over the past several days as the hiring process was finalized. But he made certain to emphasize that he intends to blaze his own path as Georgetown’s first coach without a direct link to Thompson since the Hoyas rose to national prominence.

“I don’t get caught up in the weeds on whether you knew him, whether you didn’t,” Cooley said of Thompson, who died in 2020. “I respect it. I understand it. We’ve just got to try to do something our way, and it’s not in the mold of what Coach [Thompson] would do. It’s a different era right now.”

Cooley brings to the Hilltop a track record of reviving moribund programs. Providence had losing records in six of its previous 10 seasons, with one berth in the NCAA tournament, before his arrival in 2011. The Friars soon became regulars in the postseason.

In 2021-22, Cooley directed Providence to its first Big East regular season championship — one of the more significant milestones in Friars history given the accomplishments of notable predecessors who coached there, including Rick Pitino, Rick Barnes and Pete Gillen. They also advanced to an NCAA tournament regional semifinal, won 27 games (matching the second most in program history) and were ranked as high as No. 8 in the Associated Press poll.

Georgetown has not reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 since 2007, which was also the last time the Hoyas secured a spot in the Final Four. The Hoyas have not appeared in the rankings since 2015 and last were ranked in the single digits in 2013.

They finished 7-25 this season, including 2-18 in the Big East. In the past two seasons, Georgetown lost 29 consecutive conference games, a Big East record, and dropped more games overall during that span than any other high-major program.

“It’s a new era for Georgetown basketball,” Athletic Director Lee Reed said. “We wanted someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape. Coach Cooley has a vision for our program in the court, in the classroom and in the community.”

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Cooley indicated he would explore the transfer portal to upgrade the Hoyas’ roster. He also is in the early stages of forging relationships with coaches in D.C., Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs as he attempts to make inroads to recruiting one of the most decorated regions for high school basketball.

“I’m tired as hell,” Cooley, whose daughter is set to graduate from Georgetown in May, said of his whirlwind schedule leading up to Wednesday’s news conference, during which he briefly addressed the furor, mostly on social media, over his abrupt departure from Providence. “It was hard. That was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had [with Providence officials], talking about leaving to go to an interconference team. So if any of you had to sit in my skin for 48 hours, you knew how hard that was. It had to take a really special place.”