Two months after the men’s basketball season drew to a close, Karl Hobbs was unexpectedly dismissed from his decade-long position as head coach April 25 – just as he completed his most successful season in four years.
The dismissal received mixed receptions from members of the community. Some hailed the call as long overdue for the struggling program. Others questioned if firing Hobbs, when he had one of the most impressive recruiting classes of his tenure ready to take the court, was judicious.
Beyond the debate over the merits of the decision, few saw it coming as Hobbs had just guided the team to a 17-14 overall record, tying for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 conference.
But in an interview with The Hatchet Monday, Director of Athletics Patrick Nero said the reason behind Hobbs’ dismissal is straightforward – postseason success. The Colonials were not as close to the NCAA tournament as he would have wanted, Nero said, adding that GW’s Rating Percentage Index – a ranking system for basketball teams based on games won and the difficulty of their schedule – was in the “150 range last year” and that “120 other teams” were in line for the tournament before the Colonials.
“We weren’t close to getting into the NCAA tournament. So to me, that’s not a successful year. And I have a lot of ways of going in and really looking at decision-making by the NCAA selection committee,” Nero said, for the first time giving voice to the reasons behind the University’s decision to fire Hobbs. “We all, the trustees, the senior leadership of the University, we discussed what is success. And we felt it was time to make a change.”
When the news first broke that Hobbs had been fired, members of the University’s leadership declined to comment on the reasons behind the dismissal.
The last time the Colonials qualified for the NCAA tournament was during the 2006 to 2007 season, falling in the first round to Vanderbilt. It was the third time in three years that GW had traveled to the tournament, after the 2004 to 2005 season where GW fell to Georgia Tech in the first round, and the 2005 to 2006 season that saw the Colonials travel to the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Duke.
After those three successful seasons, the program entered a period of decline. The Colonials failed to qualify for postseason play during the 2007 to 2008 season, finishing in second-to-last place in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The next year, GW again finished thirteenth in the A-10.
The Colonials showed signs of life during the 2009 to 2010 season, earning a 10-2 non-conference record, but fell in the first round of the conference tournament at Dayton. GW earned a berth in the College Basketball Invitational, falling at home in the first round to Virginia Commonwealth.
“Every program, all 22 of them, needs to have that same goal of being competitive at the top half of the Atlantic 10 and competing in national tournaments,” Nero said. “But [men’s basketball] is critical to the long-term success. It’s our premier program.”
Following his dismissal, Hobbs returned to the University of Connecticut to serve as the director of men’s basketball administration – a position where he will see little time on the court. Hobbs was an assistant coach for the Huskies from 1993 to 2001 under legendary basketball coach Jim Calhoun, before taking to the sidelines for the Colonials.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Hobbs was dismissive of how his career ended at GW, saying he enjoyed his tenure but was now focused on his new role.
“I’m at UConn. I’m very happy where I’m at. I had a wonderful experience at GW and my statement I made a long time ago is the only comment I have,” Hobbs said. “There’s no need for me to comment on that. I’m extremely happy where I am.”
Hobbs remembered his time at the University fondly in his statement last year.
“I am proud of what we achieved here and am grateful to have had the chance to work with and guide the development and accomplishments of so many outstanding student-athletes. I thank the University, particularly President Trachtenberg and President Knapp, for its support and wish the Colonials great success in the future,” Hobbs said in April.
He declined to comment further Wednesday on the specific circumstances behind his dismissal and the subsequent hire of former Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan, which was announced 11 days later. Lonergan, who coached the Catamounts to the 2010-11 America East championship, was the America East Coach of the Year.
Nero pointed Monday to Lonergan’s ability to build a program from the ground up, particularly during the recruiting process, as a crucial component of the head coach’s resume.
“It begins with recruiting, it really does,” Nero said. “Understanding and believing in the parameters of this University, what we stand for, the pride we take in men’s basketball.”
Nero stressed the importance of hiring a coach that will recruit “student-athletes that appreciate and represent GW.”
During the Colonials’ 2007 to 2008 season, three players were dismissed from the team, and in 2009, the team failed to keep its Academic Performance Rate score above NCAA standards, and had one of the team’s scholarships withheld from the program as a penalty. At the time, former athletic director Jack Kvancz attributed the score to the number of player departures.
It’s a problem Nero clearly doesn’t anticipate with Lonergan at the helm of the program, emphasizing the coach’s strong record on and off the court.
“He’s had success in the areas we want him to have success in. His kids graduate and they win,” Nero said. “All of the teams he’s coached, you’re not going to find kids with disciplinary problems, you’re not going to find kids that didn’t do well academically, you’re not going to find either he or his staff having off-the-court issues. We wanted somebody, and we feel we found somebody, that we feel represents GW very well.”