WASHINGTON, D.C. – Each day, Ed Cooley places on his headphones, activates his music and goes for a stroll. Whereas an eclectic mixture of Whitney Houston, New Version, Luther Vandross and Girl Gaga performs, the coach winds his approach off of the Georgetown campus. Ultimately he involves the intersection of Prospect and M streets, the place above him rise 75 concrete steps.
Initially constructed in 1895, the steps grew to become well-known in 1973 when a celluloid creation by the identify of Father Karras fell to his demise after liberating a toddler from demonic possession. Now, 50 years later, Cooley makes the so-called “‘Exorcist’ steps” a part of his each day hour-long jaunt. On an excellent day, he’ll loop round and summit them seven occasions.
There’s a metaphor accessible right here, about how a person whom many in his hometown now take into account the satan incarnate, needing to rid himself of unhealthy vibes, goes for his each day pedestrian exorcism.
Besides Ed Cooley isn’t trying to exorcise. He simply needs to train.
That is the factor about Cooley, present Georgetown coach, former Windfall coach, beloved son turned traitor. Individuals need to ascribe all kinds of metaphors and motivations and evils for his choice to depart one Large East college for one more. And of their protection, there’s motive to seek for a deeper trigger.
In 1979, when Dave Gavitt – a Windfall man himself – began the Large East, he delivered one edict to his seven feisty coaches: Scream and holler all you need in personal, however publicly, have one another’s backs. For 44 years, because the league expanded and compressed, died and was reborn, the coaches heeded their commissioner’s warning. They protected and preached the model. Whereas different coaches exchanged one league job for one more with out a lot as a second look, nobody left one Large East college for one more.
And now right here is Cooley. He was not Rick Pitino 2.0, twice leaving and coming into the convention many years aside. He went straight from one founding member to a different.
He had all of it. A program on the come, with seven NCAA Match berths within the final 9 years. A four-year-old follow facility. A loyal fan base.
He rejected all of it. Turned his nostril on the hardscrabble group that labored its approach into an elite program to go to a once-elite group that labored its approach right into a shambles. Gave up on a group that gained 27 Large East video games within the final two years in favor of 1 that gained two. Exchanged the Dominicans for the Jesuits, for heaven’s sake.
There must be a motive. Chasing cash, chasing glory, dysfunction, disloyalty, conceitedness. One thing.
Sitting in a convention room the place remnants from the previous coach’s tenure stand like Stonehenge – ridiculously outsized grey leather-based chairs that make atypical individuals seem like toddlers on the grownup desk – Cooley is aware of individuals need a proof. And he has one. It’s simply not the profound monologue they is perhaps looking for.
Cooley opens his fingers large, raises his eyebrows and shrugs. “I wanted a change,’’ he says.
From 14 Elma St., take a fast left on Broad, a proper on Sassafras and head to the top of the block, to 117. Not even a half mile between the 2, and but this served as all the world for Ed Cooley. Elma is the place he lived, the place his mom, Jane, did her finest to boost 9 children on her personal. Sassafras is the place he was raised, the place the Searight household took him in, fed him and confirmed him a approach out.
He ultimately left – for school, for assistant teaching jobs, his first head-coaching gig after which his second – however in a peripatetic occupation, Cooley did the unattainable. He climbed up the ladder but by no means actually left his base. A job at Fairfield gave him his longest commute, a mere 120 miles away. After which, in fact, he got here again: the Windfall son in command of Windfall Faculty. The boy from Elma Road, who meandered his approach down Broad dreaming huge desires, grabbed the brass ring. “I’m not trying to win and go someplace else,’’ he mentioned then, in 2011. “I’m completely satisfied the place I’m at. I’m dwelling.’’
Cooley, carrying a Georgetown T-shirt, remembers that vow now and winces. “By no means use the phrase ‘by no means,’’’ he says. “By no means is ceaselessly and that may be the error I made. By no means comes again to hang-out you.’’
It’s not that he didn’t imply it. He did. What he didn’t account for is that 41-year-old Ed Cooley won’t need the identical factor as 54-year-old Ed Cooley. There could be true pleasure in dwelling in the identical metropolis you’ve identified your complete life, reconnecting with childhood mentors and associates, visiting outdated haunts and consuming at favourite eating places. But there will also be, particularly as an individual ages, the existential terror of, Is that this all there may be? Ought to I do extra? Need extra?
Cooley didn’t see it coming in 2011, however he began to really feel it in recent times. At first an itch, after which ultimately a tug. 4 years in the past, he known as his pal, Mark Fox, about a gap he was greater than just a bit interested in. The 2 have been buddies for many years, and since Fox has jumped from Nevada to Georgia to Cal, he’s been an excellent sounding board for Cooley. Again then Fox informed him no, this wasn’t the appropriate one to maneuver on to. However when Cooley known as about Georgetown, Fox had a distinct reply.
“Jay Wright at all times says, ‘Don’t mess with completely satisfied,’’’ says Fox, who has since joined his buddy as Georgetown’s director of student-athlete relations and identify, picture and likeness (NIL) partnerships. “And there’s undoubtedly one thing to that. However typically perhaps you do mess with completely satisfied, since you’re hooked on the problem of accomplishment. Ed is an obsessive competitor, and I believe that’s an enormous a part of this.’’
Cooley might have stayed at Windfall and ended up with a statue outdoors the Dunkin Donuts Heart. However coaches are wired bizarre – blessed with the boldness and ego to imagine they’ll manifest actual change, but in determined want of affirmation and success and plagued by the unattainable quest for perfection. The one glad coach is the one holding the championship trophy on the finish of the season. Even that pleasure has a brief shelf life. There’s at all times subsequent season.
In 12 seasons, Cooley turned an upstart program clinging to its 1987 Last 4 laurels right into a participant. The Friars went from sporadic NCAA Match berths to common bid winners. They reached a Candy 16. Received a Large East title. Two years in the past, they climbed as excessive as No. 8 within the nation and completed thirteenth. He had not but checked each field; the regional semifinal remained Windfall’s high-water mark. But when he wasn’t on the Windfall summit, Cooley definitely might see it.
Now right here sat Georgetown – Georgetown – asking for his assist. As soon as the defining face of the Large East, the Hoyas had not completed above .500 within the league since 2015, had only one profitable season general in that span. “There are specific occasions in your life the place you need to problem your self,’’ Fox says.
It didn’t harm that Cooley’s youngest baby – daughter Olivia – simply graduated from Georgetown and resides in D.C. Being a Division I head coach and current mother or father are typically mutually unique, and although Cooley couldn’t undo the previous, he thought perhaps he might amend the current and enhance the longer term. That performed an element – an enormous half, Cooley says.
However he additionally says this: “For those who do the historical past of nationwide championships, what number of faculties have truly gained a nationwide championship? Take away the blue bloods who’ve a number of. What number of?” The reply, after eradicating faculties with two or extra, is 21 since 1939. The checklist consists of Georgetown. It doesn’t embrace Windfall. Can the Friars win one? Why not? The rebirth of Villanova proves it may be finished. Is it, nonetheless, simpler to ascertain at Georgetown – the place a historical past of success and identify model combines with a fertile recruiting base and deep-pocketed alums able to assist in the NIL division.
So he left, he and his spouse, Nurys, packing their garments, two credenzas and their mattress for a clear slate. Cooley hates the harm he’s precipitated, particularly for the reason that vitriol spills from a spot he loves greater than some other on the earth. “However I get it. I actually do,’’ he says. “The one factor I ask is sooner or later perhaps for some understanding. Till you sit in my seat, watch out what you choose, as a result of sooner or later you would possibly end up in the very same place as I did.’’
Early into the third yr of his tenure, in 1974, at Georgetown, John Thompson Jr. arrived at his personal McDonough Health club for a recreation towards Saint Peter’s. The Hoyas had skidded to a four-game shedding streak, and followers, uncertain that the untested highschool coach was the appropriate selection to guide Georgetown, had grown stressed with Thompson. Because the Hoyas headed towards one other loss, a fan within the rafters unfurled a banner. “Thompson the (n–) Flop Should Go.’’
That doesn’t depart a person; it shapes him. And for the following twenty years, whilst Thompson led Georgetown to a nationwide title and three Last Fours, he by no means forgot that he was initially made to really feel like an outsider. His intuition, thereby, was to guard. He lodged his groups in far-flung inns on highway journeys, and compelled reporters to decide on between interviewing him or his gamers – the locker room opening solely after he arrived on the dais, and shutting instantly after he completed talking. “Hoya Paranoia,’’ Washington Put up reporter Mark Asher known as it. Ultimately it might be one thing of a double entendre, as opponents grew to become cautious of the fiercest group in school basketball. However Asher coined it extra to explain Georgetown’s isolationism.
After Thompson retired, the job handed by way of his tree – first to his long-time assistant (Craig Esherick), adopted by his son (John Thompson III) and eventually, his program-defining participant (Patrick Ewing). Not surprisingly, issues didn’t change a lot. Georgetown remained reticent, if not altogether cloistered, whilst applications throughout the nation swung open their doorways to the world.
Ewing particularly welcomed the old-school teaching method. He was by no means impolite; simply extremely personal. He had good motive to be cautious. Regardless of Thompson’s makes an attempt, nothing might protect Ewing from the evil that pursued him. At a information convention to announce he’d chosen to play for Georgetown, Ewing was greeted with hisses and boos from offended Boston businessmen who needed him to go to Boston Faculty. Throughout a recreation at Villanova, followers threw banana peels as he took free throws and donned gorilla fits within the stands.
Cooley grew up watching all of it. He first met Thompson in highschool, again when the Georgetown coach introduced the Hoyas to Cooley’s Central Excessive for follow. He remembers the coach coming over, squeezing his cheeks and predicting that he was going to do huge issues. As Cooley climbed the ladder, he at all times appeared to seek out Thompson in his orbit. At Fairfield, he promised Cooley, “You gained’t be right here lengthy.”
In 2014, when Cooley led Windfall to a Large East match crown, he discovered Thompson on the alternative facet of the court docket. A Windfall grad himself, Thompson was on the radio for Westwood One. The 2 embraced and Thompson whispered in Cooley’s ear, “I’m so happy with you.’’
In taking the Georgetown job, Cooley felt not simply the immensity of the historical past, custom and legacy of this system; he felt the immensity of being a Black man, and a disciple of Thompson’s, taking up this system that for therefore lengthy outlined Black excellence in athletics.
However he additionally didn’t come to D.C. carrying the sepia-colored glasses of nostalgia. He is aware of he’s there as a result of, very similar to Cooley himself, the Hoyas want a change.
In seven months, Georgetown basketball has basically gone from impossible-to-find Waldo to Taylor Swift at a Chiefs recreation. Since March, Cooley has appeared on greater than 100 Zooms, visited alums in New York Metropolis, San Francisco and Martha’s Winery. He’s proven up within the classroom, at a lacrosse doubleheader and outdoors the dorms on move-in day. In a city identified for glad-handing, baby-kissing and stumping, Cooley is excessive. After ending an interview, he’s off to satisfy with the vice chairman of scholar affairs and the following day is taking his group to Capitol Hill.
It’s one factor to hold an air of aloof thriller when you’re an everyday Last 4 participant; it’s one other altogether while you’ve gained two Large East video games in two years.
The cycle of faculty athletics success requires followers to construct a buzz to create a group that wins video games to draw followers. The Hoyas final yr averaged a little bit greater than 5,000 followers per dwelling recreation, and so Cooley has to make like a Low-cost Trick lyric. I would like you to need me. I want you to wish me. I’d love you to like me.
It helps that it comes naturally to him. “He can go as much as anybody and begin a dialog,’’ says Illinois switch Jayden Epps. “He can take any room he walks into.’’ That is, in any case, a person who coached a whole Large East match championship recreation with a Gatorade towel round his waist after splitting his pants. Nobody ever accused Cooley of being aloof.
Now for the onerous half: The precise basketball. No quantity of connection from Cooley will masks extra awful outcomes. He doesn’t sugarcoat it. The climb is steep, largely as a result of the league is so good. The Large East will begin the season with the defending nationwide champion, extra groups within the high 10 (three) than some other league within the nation, and 4 within the Prime 25.
He has dipped deep into the switch portal, a spot the place he’s fairly comfy. In his first yr at Windfall, he took conventional sit-out switch Carson Desrosiers from Wake Forest, and final yr seven of the 14 Friars on the roster began someplace else. At Georgetown, he grabbed Epps from Illinois, Dontrez Kinds from North Carolina and Ismael Massoud from Kansas State. All three left significantly higher applications than they joined; all three mentioned they got here due to Cooley. They appreciated his monitor report of success, however largely felt drawn to his character. “He’s excessive power, and humorous, however he’s additionally straight with you,’’ Kinds says.
At a latest follow, Cooley gives a fast breakdown of a latest scrimmage, mocking Kinds’ lack of transition hustle. “You seem like Kirk Gibson,’’ he says, after which self-corrects, realizing his gamers haven’t any earthly thought who Gibson is. After a staffer finds video of the baseball star, Cooley stops follow and exhibits the Los Angeles Dodger belting his well-known dwelling run in Sport 1 of the 1988 World Sequence. “See that dwelling run trot,’’ he jokes to Kinds. “That’s you in transition.’’
A couple of minutes later, disgusted when one group can’t run a drill correctly, Cooley barks at them to get off “the f—ing flooring and listen.’’ They get it proper the following time. “He’s that man – the one who’s going to ensure you run all the pieces to a T,’’ says Jay Heath, the Hoyas’ high returning scorer. “That’s solely going to make us higher.’’
The gamers say they see enchancment – even from the start of follow to the scrimmage. There’s a stronger understanding of their strengths. The Hoyas, as soon as the house of Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo, shall be small, relying largely on Dikembe’s beforehand little-used son Ryan Mutombo, on the within. However they hope they’ll make up for it with quickness and toughness, normal traits of Cooley-coached Windfall groups. After their first season underneath Cooley, the Friars by no means dipped beneath 92 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted protection.
The gamers are optimistic – they speak of quick objectives of profitable Large East titles and deep NCAA runs. Cooley is extra reticent to place quantifiers on what success will seem like straight away. Georgetown, he says, is the toughest job he’s had, due to the confluence of custom, expectation and floor to make up.
Onerous, however not unattainable. “It’s simply going by way of the ache of progress,’’ he says. “However we’re going to win. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. We’re right here to win championships.”
Cooley nonetheless isn’t fairly settled in D.C. An in-town clothier helped remedy an early go well with disaster – he wanted Georgetown blue, however solely had Windfall black. He’s studying about notorious D.C. visitors. Early on he figured he might cowl the 4 miles to Gonzaga Excessive College in 5 minutes. He checked his GPS and noticed it was extra like 40. He has but to provide you with an inventory of go-to eating places, so most nights he simply goes dwelling after work.
It’s an adjustment, particularly coming from Windfall, the place he knew each nook and cranny, and had a ready-made checklist of lifelong family and friends. Does he miss it? “In fact I do,’’ he says. “I don’t know learn how to dwell in D.C. but. We’re nonetheless figuring it out. However do I’ve regrets? Nope. Do I’ve what-ifs? Nope. This was the appropriate factor for me. It was time.’’
Time for a change.
(Prime picture: John Bradford / The Athletic; Jacob Kupferman / Getty Photos; Mitchell Layton / Getty Photos)