The Blog

Hoya Liberation Day

For Georgetown basketball fans, a new era has dawned as coach Craig Esherick's tenure comes to a merciful end.

11:20 AM, Mar 18, 2004 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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JUST STOP. IT'S OVER. FORGET ABOUT IT. There's always next year. For college basketball fanatics, today is when it all ends. The beauty of your brackets marred by upsets or upsets that never happened. Will Mississippi State beat Duke? Probably. Georgia Tech over Kentucky? Maybe. Connecticut over Stanford? How's Omeka's back holding up? Will Eddie Sutton finally be victorious? (I've got Oklahoma State in my pool.)

There's one thing you won't have to worry about: How far will Georgetown get? That's because for the first time in 30 years, the Hoyas will not be going to any postseason tournament, having ended a miserable 13-15 overall and 4-12 in the Big East. But just when you thought the once-great Hoyas were headed for the Patriot League, at 11:00 p.m. Tuesday night, the university released a statement by President Jack DeGioia announcing that Craig Esherick, coach of the men's basketball team, had been fired.

FOR THOSE NOT FAMILIAR with the internecine politics at Georgetown, the news hardly merits mention. If a coach at a Division I basketball program does not do well, chances are administration officials will carefully review his performance and decide whether or not to continue with him. Sometimes the coach is given another chance to build the program; other times he gets canned.

But not at Georgetown. In January of 2003, with the team having lost 6 of its last 9 games and sitting, crumpled, near the bottom of the Big East, athletic director Joe Lang was quietly preparing a contract extension for the coach. And after the team failed to make the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year and finished with a 6-10 conference record (but made it to the finals of the National Invitational Tournament), the university rewarded Esherick by extending his contract until 2009.

The 2004 season was worse. After a 10-0 start (against such powerhouses as Grambling, Coastal Carolina, Norfolk State, and Elon), the Hoyas lost 15 of 18. Unlike the nail-biting losses of last year, some of these defeats were downright ugly. Against a St. John's team that included four walk-ons, Georgetown shot 36 percent for the game, eventually losing 65-58. (The Red Storm would end the year with only one conference win--against Georgetown.) The Hoyas shot a miserable 31.5 percent in their loss to Temple. At Seton Hall, Georgetown shot 26.5 percent overall--and 13.6 percent in the first half, managing a mere 14 points before halftime, before losing, 75-48. Odd, since Esherick's plan this season was for a perimeter-oriented offense, one to emphasize its strength as a shooting team. Some plan.

Georgetown played its final game of the season last week against Boston College, losing to the Eagles, 68-57. It was the first time the Hoyas have ever lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Their 13 wins were the fewest since the 1973-74 season. They also finished on a nine-game losing streak, the worst in more than 30 years.

ALUMNI AND STUDENT ANGER over Esherick's tenure started in earnest last year, with chants of "Fire Esherick" and the occasional poster. But as the season wore on, the chants grew louder. After a stunning loss to St. John's (after holding a 15-point lead with 5 minutes left), one fan got within earshot of the coach, waved a newspaper at him, and yelled, "Look at the want ads, Esherick!" Then a banner went up on campus calling for a new coach (the banner was quickly taken down).

This year the anger had reached another level. At least one house in Georgetown placed a sign on its front window saying "Fire Esherick!" Someone managed to spray-paint Key Bridge with the same demand. There were T-shirts and posters at games--one at the Virginia Tech game read "EaSe our PaiN, Fire Esherick!" The coach's brother, Blake, reached across the aisle and pulled it out of the fan's hands.

Adding to this anger were Esherick's bizarrely combative and confident statements. On his team's failure to make the postseason: "You're talking about 30 years in a row of being invited to the postseason, and that's a pretty incredible streak that I don't think our school got credit for, that I don't think I got any credit for." Regarding his critics: "If I'm evaluated as a college basketball coach and I'm evaluated as a professional coach, I think that 99 percent of the people that would evaluate me and understand what a college basketball coach is supposed to do and understand what I'm supposed to do here at Georgetown, 99 percent of those people would say, 'Craig has done a heck of a job over the last five years, and Georgetown is lucky to have him."