Since Karl Hobbs' arrival in Foggy Bottom eight years ago, students have welcomed the head men's basketball coach to the Smith Center court by bowing, an act of reverence usually reserved for royalty and deities. Even last season, when the team missed the postseason for the first time in more than 30 years, fans continued the tradition. After all, every team is entitled to an occasional off-year.
But after losing four straight games, Hobbs was greeted by a group of cross-armed devotees when he stepped on the floor for GW's Atlantic 10 opener against Richmond on Saturday, a game the Colonials lost 60-48. And, in an ironic twist of fate, the same people who just a few years ago were praying Hobbs would not leave GW for a more prestigious program are now calling for him to be fired.
Off the court, message boards like gwhoops.com, usually populated by the most ardent supporters of the team, are cluttered with posts regarding Hobbs' failure to prepare the team before games and lead it during them. After starting the season 6-2, the Colonials are returning from break with five straight losses - to some of the worst teams in the country.
In his eighth year at GW, Hobbs is also one of the school's largest athletic investments. He was paid $509,000 in 2007, the sixth-highest staff salary at GW, according to the University's most recent tax filings. And after renewing with the school in Sept. 2007, he is now under contract until 2012.
But Hobbs will not be fired this season, said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, who oversees athletics, in a recent telephone interview. He acknowledged, though, that the University may have to "make some changes" if the team does not finish 12th or better in the A-10 and subsequently misses the conference tournament for a second straight year.
"In this situation, you can't ignore that if the season goes really south and sour we would have to some real heart-to-heart conversations with Coach Hobbs in terms of what we expect going forward if he wants to remain coach at GW," said Chernak, who said he "likes" Hobbs.
Chernak added, "At the end of the day, a coach is being paid to win basketball games."
Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz - who meets with Chernak after the season to evaluate the school's coaches - said the season has been "very, very frustrating," but added that he would let it play out in its entirety before making any decisions.
Kvancz, a former basketball player at Boston College and coach at Catholic University, said he met with Hobbs to discuss the state of the team during the team's disastrous trip to Hawaii for the annual Rainbow Classic, in which GW lost all three of its games and finished last out of eight teams.
When asked the reason for the team's losses in Hawaii, Hobbs said the problems stemmed from players "not being mature enough and understanding the importance of being in a tournament and getting themselves mentally ready for games." Later, he acknowledged the responsibility of making sure the team is prepared partly lies with him.
What bothers senior Chase Carpenter, one of the Colonials' most loyal supporters, more than losing is what he perceives to be Hobbs' failure to make adjustments during games and his unwillingness to accept responsibility for his team's struggles.
"If Hobbs would just say, 'I screwed up,' I'd give him another year," said Carpenter, who said he is in favor of Hobbs being replaced.
Though he conceded his job is not to evaluate coaching decisions, Chernak, a former referee, said the fan in him has been confused by some of Hobbs' substitution patterns and benching of the team's best players, pointing out the lack of playing time forwards Damian Hollis and Rob Diggs received during the team's Dec. 30 loss to Coppin State, a team that entered the game with a 1-10 record.
For his part, Hobbs said he never pays attention to what fans say on Internet message boards, which have become increasingly critical in recent weeks.
"I never pay attention to what the fans say," Hobbs said. "We went undefeated in this league three years ago, we're two years away from an NCAA tournament and they weren't happy. So, why would they be now? They're never happy, never satisfied and they always want more. But as a coach I understand that, I don't have a problem with that.
"But I don't pay attention to that at all because they're not with these kids every day, they don't see the growing pains that they go through," Hobbs added. "The loyal fans, I know who they are. The people who understand what we're doing as a basketball program, that's who I listen to."
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet erroneously reported that Karl Hobbs is the third-highest paid staff member at GW. He is the sixth-highest paid, and the second-highest paid non-administrator.