Roughly eight months ago, Jonathan Tsipis was on the bench as a Notre Dame assistant during last season’s NCAA women’s basketball championship game when an announcement on the national television broadcast informed viewers he had been named head coach at George Washington.
Speculation had surfaced over the Final Four weekend in Denver that Tsipis was the leading candidate for the position, but the move was not officially finalized until after the Fighting Irish had lost to undefeated Baylor, 80-61.
“It was great for our university that it was leaked out,” said Tsipis, referring to George Washington. “It wasn’t completely valid until that Wednesday after the championship game.”
Around the same time, then-Georgetown assistant Keith Brown was thinking about following mentor Terri Williams-Flournoy to Auburn, where she had been named head coach after eight seasons directing the Hoyas back to prominence.
Brown initially spent time with Williams-Flournoy in Alabama before coming back to the District to apply for the Georgetown vacancy, deciding he did not want to leave the area he has called home for two decades. On May 7, he was named Hoyas head coach on the heels of a search process that included interviewing with senior guard Sugar Rodgers, whom Brown recruited to play at Georgetown.
“It was kind of funny,” said Rodgers, Georgetown’s all-time scoring leader. “Not that I couldn’t play for anybody else, but I actually wanted him to be the coach. I didn’t want the transition to be that big.”
On Saturday afternoon at Smith Center, Brown and Tsipis will face each other as head coaches for the first time after years of competing in the Big East and in high school gyms as former recruiting coordinators.
They sent text messages back and forth following the search process at each school to offer each other congratulations, and both said a budding rivalry between George Washington and Georgetown could help elevate the profile of women’s basketball in the area.
While Tsipis and Brown share common experiences as assistants, the tasks for each as a head coach are divergent. Tsipis’s charge is to rebuild the Colonials’ program to the stature it owned in the 1990s and through much of the 2000s, when then-coach Joe McKeown guided George Washington to 15 NCAA tournament appearances, four trips to the round of 16 and one berth in a region final.
Tsipis is off to a promising start with the Colonials, who are 4-2 for the first time since 2008-09. George Washington most recently logged a 75-40 road victory over Morgan State on Wednesday night , in which senior Megan Nipe scored a season-high 14 points, and senior Danni Jackson added 11 points seven assists and four steals.
“I don’t know if there’s ever the right, true time,” Tsipis said of leaving Notre Dame after nine years working with Hall of Fame Coach Muffet McGraw. “But I thought from an opportunity standpoint, knowing what I was looking for in a head coaching position, I think it was as close as the best time possible.”
Brown, meanwhile, has the Hoyas (5-2) just outside the rankings, where they made a brief appearance at No. 25 in the wake of a 62-56 win over then-No. 11 Delaware on Nov. 11. Brown’s assignment is to continue the momentum from three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including the program’s second berth in the round of 16 two years ago.
Brown’s hiring also ensured valuable continuity considering seven players graduated from last season’s team and another transferred. Through that turnover, Brown has leaned on Rodgers not just for her scoring and rebounding, but also for guidance on a team with six players who are either freshmen or sophomores.
“I think a lot of the candidates that they had were great candidates, but they didn’t coach in the Big East, which is a different animal,” Brown said of Georgetown’s coaching search. “They didn’t understand the Georgetown way, so I think those things were always in my corner. I think the stability part was extremely important.”