After two consecutive losing seasons, public calls for his dismissal, and multiple player transfers and early departures, Georgetown has fired John Thompson III after 13 seasons.
The news was not wholly unexpected in light of the state of the program—the team has missed the NCAA tournament three of the last four years—but Thompson’s job was still largely seen as safe considering his father, John Thompson Jr., built the Georgetown basketball program, and the Thompsons’ legacy remains an integral part of its identity. (I even predicted last month that his tenure could only end in resignation.)
As recently as March 1, the athletic department was still offering support for Thompson. Per the Washington Post, Athletic Director Lee Reed said:
We remain confident in Coach Thompson’s ability to lead a team comprised of student athletes who achieve academically, are prepared for a future beyond Georgetown and will be competitive on a national level.
So, either something changed in the intervening weeks, or there’s a disconnect among the university decision-makers, because on Thursday, Georgetown President John DeGioia released the following statement, which read, in part:
It is with profound regret and deep appreciation that I informed John Thompson III this morning that the University will no longer be retaining his services as our Head Men’s Basketball Coach.
For thirteen years, he has been one of the elite coaches in college basketball. His performance as a coach has been exceptional, and he has served our community with remarkable distinction and integrity, sustaining our commitment to the academic performance of our students and providing them with the very best preparation for their lives beyond the Hilltop.
Our tradition of excellence as a University will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family.
Later, Reed also released a statement, part of which read:
Decisions like this are not easy to make and are not made without a thorough process.
I want to thank John for his service to Georgetown over the last 13 years. He has been an exemplary leader for our men’s basketball program and a great ambassador for our University.
Here’s Thompson’s statement, released through his agent, David Falk:
DeGioia’s “deep regret,” Reed’s about-face, and Thompson’s praise for both of them point to possible intervention from the Board of Directors, but no matter how the firing came about, it was undeniably justified.
In addition to finishing the season 14-18 (5-13 in the Big East), Georgetown hasn’t been able to hang on to players. Just this week, Georgetown’s second-leading scorer L.J Peak announced he would be skipping his senior year to declare for the NBA draft. Before that, junior Trey Mourning—son of Georgetown icon Alonzo Mourning, who played for John Thompson Jr.—had been reportedly linked to a transfer. After a disappointing first half of the season, junior Isaac Copeland transferred to Nebraska in January. And before the season started, the promising Paul White left the school, landing at Oregon. Then last week, highly regarded 2017 recruit Tremont Waters rescinded his intent to play for Georgetown.
Adding to the pressure, a group of students and alumni who had been actively calling for Thompson’s removal were planning a protest on campus Friday to advance their objective.
While firing Thompson was a justifiable basketball decision that will hopefully reinvigorate the program, I’m glad he didn’t have to see an on-campus protest. His affection for his players and dedication to Georgetown basketball were obvious and fierce, and that counts for something. And as the most prominent black basketball coach in Washington, D.C., the “chocolate city,” his willingness to engage on issues of race was important. In December 2014, Georgetown players wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts during warmups before a nationally televised game against Kansas, a decision supported by Thompson.
“The emotions are from fear to frustration to confusion to anger,” Thompson said at the time. “[Their emotions are] probably pretty consistent with the emotions across the country right now.”
As Hoya basketball moves forward, a few names have floated to the top of the potential coach heap, namely Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, who is also represented by Falk. (Falk is a big deal around Georgetown; he partnered with Patrick Ewing to donate $3.3 million to the new athletic center, named after John Thompson Jr.) Amaker seems an uninspired choice but he’s been coaching for decades—Duke, Michigan, Seton Hall—and, coming from Harvard, he’s considered an “academic fit.” Texas coach Shaka Smart, who led VCU to a miracle Final Four run in 2011, might not be at Texas next year, and if Georgetown could woo him, he’d be the ideal coach for Georgetown. Another name that always comes up is Patrick Ewing’s, but for a program trying to shake free of its past and get out from under the shadow of John Thompson Jr., this would be a poor choice.
The Thompson tenure is over at Georgetown, and it’s bittersweet. Now it’s time for something new.
Correction (6:55 p.m. ET): This post has been updated to show that Trey Mourning had reportedly planned to transfer; he had not announced his transfer.