- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Speaking in the athletic center bearing his idol’s name, Ed Cooley recalled the influence John Thompson had on his life. Cooley, who grew up a Black kid who dreamed of coaching basketball one day, admired the late Georgetown coach for trailblazing a path for coaches like him to follow.

That made it all the more memorable, Cooley told Washington reporters Wednesday, when the iconic Thompson pulled him aside early in his career and shared a few words of encouragement.

When he was a rising coach at Fairfield, Cooley remembered, Thompson came up to him to say that Cooley wouldn’t be there long. The implication: His talent would lead him elsewhere, to a bigger program. 

Ironically, Cooley’s path eventually brought him to the program that Thompson made famous.

Georgetown — with the glory days of John Thompson long since faded — this week hired Cooley to return the program to prominence.

And as much as Cooley reveres Thompson, he made one thing clear Wednesday: He isn’t the legend whose shadow still looms so large over the Hoyas. 

“I’m not him,” Cooley said. “I don’t want to be him.” 

Cooley’s hire represents a clean break from direct ties to Thompson after rolling with Patrick Ewing (Thompson’s star pupil who returned to coach for six seasons), John Thomspon III (his son) and Craig Esherick (Thompson’s longtime assistant) since the turn of the century.

And that may be what’s needed for a program that has fallen far from contention and finished last in the Big East for two straight seasons. Athletic director Lee Reed said Cooley could “reimagine Georgetown basketball,” while school President John DeGioia said the hire represented a “new chapter.” 

At his introductory press conference, though, Cooley didn’t shy away from the kinds of expectations that used to be the norm on the Hilltop. He talked about restoring the atmosphere at Capital One Arena, finding tournament success and ultimately winning a championship. 

He noted the school’s “G” logo and told the crowd that the symbol was going to be “special” once again.

“There’s a history here, there’s a tradition here that you have to respect,” Cooley said. “But it is a new era. And it’s the blossom season and we’re about to blossom as big as anything in America — I can promise you that. … We’re going to become champions.” 

Cooley comes from Providence, a program he helped build into an annual threat in the Big East. Over 12 seasons, the 53-year-old made the tournament seven times — including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2022 — and tallied a 242-153 record. 

Cooley called leaving the Friars a move as “brutally tough” as any he’s ever made. After all, it meant leaving his hometown. “I watched Friar basketball my whole life, always wanted to be their head coach,” he told The Washington Times. There was a part of him still sad over the exit, and he acknowledged that the exit didn’t sit well with Providence’s fanbase. 

“I think they are (mad), and rightfully so,” Cooley said of Providence’s fans. “We built a program. But they’re mad because coach Cooley left. … I had to take care of Ed. Coach Cooley is just the coach. Ed is the person.” 

Cooley said to leave Providence, it had to be for “something special.” And Georgetown also offered one thing that Providence couldn’t: An opportunity to be closer to his daughter, Olivia, a Georgetown student. While she graduates in May, Cooley said his daughter wants to stay in the area. 

Elsewhere, Cooley urged patience as he looks to rebuild the Hoyas. Georgetown, after all, won just 13 games over the last two seasons and went a 29-game stretch without winning a conference game under Ewing. Cooley also preached the need for Georgetown to tap into the school’s name, image and likeness program and embrace college basketball’s modern, ever-changing landscape.  

Over the past few years, the Hoyas have been hit hard by transfers as they’ve seen an annual exodus of players each offseason. Asked about the current team he was inheriting, Cooley said he would meet with his players — but made no promises. 

“I want somebody who wants to be here,” Cooley said. “I’m not going to beg you to stay.”

As for Thompson, Cooley repeatedly noted how important it was to respect tradition. But he also says it’s time for a new era.

“I’ll always honor coach, he’s the reason why I’m here,” Cooley said. “He’s given us a vision. He gave all of us hope. And I’m going to do it my way. Hopefully, my way is going to be the way that provides championships.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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