Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – “Don’t worry about the person that’s gone. Embrace the coach that you have, not the assh— that left.” 

Those were the words of Ed Cooley on Saturday afternoon following his Georgetown team’s loss to Providence, 84-76. The 18th-year college head coach, a Providence native, was not naive to the reception he would receive in his return game after he left the Friars for the Hoyas last March in an unprecedented move in Big East history. 

His words were sprung by the double-digit number of chants throughout the two hours: “F— Ed Cooley.” 

They rained down at Amica Mutual Pavilion, as expected, because Friar fans waited 10 months to let one of their own know how they felt about him leaving the powerhouse program he built in Friartown for 12 seasons. The fanbase felt betrayed, and was going to make Cooley aware of that. The question was simple: How would he receive the booing and those chants? Actually, with a smile and some laughter. 

“If anything, I should ask Providence College for a bonus check based on the energy that was in here, and that’s no lie,” Cooley quipped. 

No, that check won’t be in the mail from Providence athletic director Steve Napolillo. But in many ways, Saturday represented a full-circle moment in the Friars-Hoyas saga – and a new rivalry. It showed what Cooley built at Providence and what he departed from in shocking and gutting fashion. It displayed what rising star Kim English can be as his team executed to a tee in the final moments while also shedding a glimmer of light on what’s possible for Georgetown in future years. 

And appropriately, it was a Cooley recruit in Devin Carter who put the game away. Just when it looked like Georgetown could pull off the unthinkable, leading 69-66 with 2:57 on the clock, the junior guard took matters into his own hands to lead an 11-0 run. Carter continued his Big East player of the year candidacy, scoring seven straight points and a total of 11 in the final two minutes, and finishing with 29 to charge the Friars from a late deficit to their 14th win, a must in their pursuit of a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. 

“This was a really emotional game for a lot of people, and I knew we had to get this win,” Carter said. “It was good to see Coach [Cooley], and there’s no bad blood. But I had to let him know – Providence is still a really hard place to play.” 

Carter certainly did that, throwing down a windmill dunk as an exclamation point to the victory.
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But amid the vitriol that stewed inside the building, the many signs and T-shirts worn in a protest against the Georgetown head coach, what stood out the most from the day was just how much Cooley publicly championed his former school. It does make you second-guess the idea that he’s elsewhere now, something that certainly is to Georgetown’s gain. 

“This atmosphere, as I told my men, there’s no better college basketball atmosphere than right here [in Providence],” Cooley said. “It is my hope, and my dream, not only that we play twice, but that we play four times a year – one for a Big East championship, and another for a national championship. Providence College is built for that. They will continue to grow, and that will be a dream of mine as I cheer for Providence in all but those games. I’ll always be a part of the fabric and culture of this university.” 

And therein lies the very reason there is so much frustration from the Providence faithful, because they truly believed he was one of them … forever. 

“Nurys and I made a business, a family decision to move on,” Cooley said of his wife. “And many don’t have the courage to change because you’re content and you just want to go status quo. I love Providence College, and there’s no question about that. Those personal relationships here will never go away. I’m very grateful. I’ll always be proud to be the former coach of Providence College and I’m very proud to be someone who lived and grew up here. My parents are still here. The people that I adore and love are still here. My son is still here. I love this place.” 

The place that he’s at now is in step one of a giant rebuild, with Georgetown dropping to 8-12 – and 1-8 in the Big East – on Saturday. Simply put, at this moment, the Hoyas don’t have enough firepower to piece 40 minutes together game in and game out. There are glimpses of what can be, and only time will tell what Cooley does at a program that possesses all the resources one could ask for, but for right now, Saturday was the latest example that the Hoyas are still learning the hard way what it takes to actually win. 

The Friars know that, and have guys who understand it, as English’s team improved to 14-6 on the year and 5-4 in the Big East to remain in good standing in the bubble conversation. 

“Kim inherited a very healthy situation,” said Cooley, a vocal supporter of English. “That doesn’t happen overnight. That doesn’t happen without the support of the administration, of this building, without the students. They have a great basketball team, and one of the best two-way players in Devin Carter, and he really won them that game. We’re growing. We’re learning how to compete. Right now, we’re just not there.”

For the fanbase, Saturday was the payback day inside Amica Mutual Pavilion. Should Cooley be regarded in good standing? Sure, he did so many great things at Providence, with seven NCAA Tournament trips in 12 seasons and a Sweet 16 in 2022. He said all the right things, but many fans weren’t going to listen. 

What will be most intriguing is what this rivalry turns into in the future if and when Cooley, who’s making in the neighborhood of $6 million per year down in Washington, has Georgetown back as a contender. 

“Mark my words: Eventually, we’re going to prove everybody wrong,” Cooley said. “We’re not there yet. We’re just beginning to build this thing. But we’re going to do it.”

“I’m so grateful that I was the head coach at Providence College.  It’s onto the next chapter of life. I’m looking forward to that next chapter, because it will be the best one in the book.”

While time will tell if that’s true, in his basketball career, Saturday’s chapter was the toughest in Cooley’s book. 

The best news for him – and every party involved in his return circus: It’s over.
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John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on X at @John_Fanta.

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