On and Off the Court, Timing is Everything

By David Wong Hoya Staff Writer

As a college basketball icon, John Thompson has long been hailed as a man of courage and strength, anger and compassion, fear and love. To this list, he now adds impeccable timing.

By abruptly announcing his immediate resignation as head coach of Georgetown’s men’s basketball team, Thompson signaled the end of a distinguished 27-year tenure in which he led an obscure basketball program to national prominence, culminating with an NCAA championship in 1984. During a remarkable run of success in the 1980s, Thompson graduated a host of athletes from Georgetown and many more into the National Basketball Association.

But over the past seven seasons, Thompson saw the powerhouse he built erode into mediocrity. Despite 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances, Georgetown was not invited in 1993 after posting its first losing conference record since the inception of the Big East. Three years later, Allen Iverson became the first Thompson-coached Hoya to leave school early for the NBA draft. In 1997, Georgetown went 16-15, Thompson’s worst finish since his first year. And this season, the Hoyas under Thompson posted a paltry 7-6 record against relatively weak opponents and an 0-4 mark in Big East conference play.

Relief would not be in Georgetown’s immediate future. In the coming weeks, Georgetown would embark on the toughest stretch of its schedule, including a showdown with top-ranked Connecticut. Beyond that, next season’s recruiting class, though one of Thompson’s most promising in recent years, does not come close to the talent Georgetown used to draw.

So, amid personal problems and facing his worst season in 25 years, Thompson stepped down in the same fashion he stepped in – quietly, yet gracefully. Thompson, who cited personal issues raised by his pending divorce as the reason for his departure as head coach, spoke with his usual bridled passion during a press conference at McDonough Gym on Jan. 8.

“I am going through a divorce which has become a problem, and I have to address that,” Thompson said. “I could not do my job the way I was supposed to because of my personal problems.”

At first, the timing was unsettling, even to Thompson.

“I didn’t plan it. Had I planned it, it wouldn’t be now,” Thompson said.

But the timing was right. After a National Championship, three Final Fours and 26 seasons, Thompson had reached the pinnacle and was beginning to see the other side. Suddenly his team wasn’t climbing anymore, but rather sliding.

For a man who had prided himself on discipline and perseverance, stepping aside couldn’t have been easy. For the coach who consistently preached the evil of quitting, the decision to resign must have been difficult. For Thompson, the resignation couldn’t have come at a worse time, for a worse reason.

But like it or not, Thompson made the right choice.

At the right time.

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