Patrick Ewing’s long journey to land a head coaching job ended Monday at the school that he placed on the college basketball map more than 30 years ago.
Georgetown University, which won its lone national championship in 1984 with Ewing at center, hired the Hall of Fame big man to replace John Thompson III, who was dismissed two weeks ago. Ewing, who served as an NBA assistant for 15 years, has never been a head coach.
“My four years at Georgetown were the best of my life,” Ewing said in a statement released by the school. “Georgetown is my home and it is a great honor for me to return to my alma mater and serve as the next head coach. I have been preparing to be a head coach for many years and can’t wait to return to the Hilltop.”
Ewing, 54, the former Knick, is the greatest player in the history of the program. He played under John Thompson from 1982 to 1985 and went to three national championship games. He had been serving as the associate head coach of the Charlotte Hornets.
“This is a big loss for the Charlotte Hornets, but we are all excited for Patrick to have the opportunity to go back to Georgetown. Everyone knows how much his alma mater means to him,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who first met Ewing as a Knicks assistant coach in the late ’90s.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with him for 12 years with three organizations and I know the effort he has put into coaching. He has attacked this profession with the same mentality he had as a player, with hard work, dedication and a passion for the game of basketball.
“I’m thrilled that all of Patrick’s hard work has paid off and he has earned the opportunity to be Georgetown’s head coach. We wish him the best of luck in the next chapter of his coaching career.”
In recent years, Ewing had grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of head coaching opportunities he received. He did interview with both the Memphis Grizzlies as well as the Sacramento Kings, where he was one of the finalists.
Ewing, however, has never been considered for a job with the Knicks, either as a head coach or assistant. He did decline an opportunity to interview for the Knicks D-League job several years ago, believing he had served too much time on an NBA bench to take what would be considered a step back.
“Patrick was never underestimated as a player but he’s always underestimated as a coach and a person,” former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy told the Daily News. “He has all the qualities you need as a coach and person to get the job done.”
Ewing is in the process of forming a coaching staff that will likely include a coach familiar with the college game. For the past 10 days, Ewing has sought the counsel of several former NBA players who made transition from coaching in the league to running a college program.
That includes Alabama head coach Avery Johnson as well as Dan Majerle, who serves as the head coach of Grand Canyon University in Arizona. It is believed that Ewing also reached out to St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin, his one-time rival and Olympic teammate, who finished his second season at his alma mater.
Ewing also consulted with former college head coach Buzz Peterson, senior advisor to basketball operations for the Charlotte Hornets and a former Tar Heel adversary and Michael Jordan’s college roommate at North Carolina.
Those who have spoken with Ewing during the process all say he understands the challenges that the college game presents and that recruiting top players will have to be a top priority.
“Georgetown has had NBA players before and has won with NBA caliber players,” said one opposing college coach. “They don’t have any right now. He needs to find talent.”
It is a bittersweet day for Ewing, who gets his first head coaching job under less than ideal circumstances. The Thompson family and Ewing have been connected since 1981 when John Thompson recruited Ewing out of Cambridge, Mass. The elder Thompson has been a second father to Ewing, whose son, Patrick Jr., played for the Hoyas and was on Thompson III’s coaching staff.
Georgetown is the only college job Ewing would have considered and he emerged as a candidate within minutes after John Thompson III was dismissed on March 23. Thompson III spent the past 13 seasons as the Hoyas’ coach, going 278-151 with eight NCAA tournament appearances. Georgetown finished 14-18 this season, including a 5-13 mark in Big East play.
“Of all the players that have gone from superstardom to putting in the time and paying their dues to become a head coach, Patrick deserves this probably more than any player ever,’’ Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who coached Ewing with the Knicks, said in a statement. “I am absolutely delighted for him and I think he’ll do a great job at Georgetown. Patrick Ewing was the first. He has come home.’’
With DANIEL POPPER