Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.
Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.
At his introductory news conference Wednesday, which felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins — many of them — and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.
“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”
Georgetown lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play over those two seasons.
Although Cooley, at Providence, was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.
“I don’t have anything to do with what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”
Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and then Ewing getting the job, Cooley is the school’s first outside hire in the position in a half-century.
His only connection to the Hilltop — beyond coaching in the Big East — is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.
It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.
“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”
That landscape — including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness and more easily transfer schools — features the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head-coaching job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.
“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”
Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.
“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”