WASHINGTON (AP) — Times are changing in college hoops scene around the nation’s capital. Gary Williams is done at Maryland. Jim Larranaga has moved on from George Mason.
Mike Lonergan figures that should work to his advantage as he moves back to his old stomping grounds as the new coach at George Washington.
“It’s interesting what’s going on with coach Williams retiring, I was surprised by it. Coach Larranaga, I didn’t think he would make a move,” Lonergan said Monday at his introductory news conference. “I do think this is a good time to try to sneak back up there.”
Lonergan’s mission is to make the Colonials relevant again after years of bad-to-mediocre basketball played in front of sparse crowds at the Smith Center. He replaces Karl Hobbs, who was fired last month after 10 seasons.
It’s a competitive area that’s always been dominated by Maryland and Georgetown, but George Mason’s surge under Larranaga made GW very much an afterthought. Mason has hired former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt to succeed Larranaga.
Lonergan knows the local basketball scene inside and out — grew up in the Maryland suburbs, went to high school and college in the District of Columbia, then led alma mater Catholic to the Division III title 10 years ago. There was also the season he served as an assistant on Williams’ bench with the Terrapins before taking the head job at Vermont in 2005.
Therefore, the 45-year-old coach who hobbled to the podium Monday on crutches — he had left knee surgery last month for a torn meniscus — should have a leg up on the competition when it comes to recruiting at the Atlantic 10 school.
“We’re going to try to get the word out there that we want to compete with all those school in the recruiting battles,” Lonergan said. “At Vermont I always said I had to get low-Big East and A-10 players. Here we’re to have to some Big East-type players if we want to win the A-10. I definitely know what I’ve gotten in to. It can be done here.”
Lonergan, who signed a five-year contract, referred to GW as his “dream job.” He spoke of taking the subway from Catholic to watch games at the Smith Center, where he see childhood hero Red Auerbach sitting in the stands.
“I probably looked at him more than the games itself … I shouldn’t say this, but sometimes he’d be nodding off,” Lonergan said.
Even so, it wasn’t easy to leave Vermont, where Lonergan amassed a 126-68 record. His wife, Maggie, was the assistant coach for a girls’ high school team that won the state championship this year. They found the Green Mountain State a great place to raise their four children.
But D.C. is home, and it’s where they both have been winners. He went 251-88 at Catholic from 1992-2004, and Maggie had a successful run (69-40) as coach of the Catholic women’s team for four seasons. GW’s roster be warned: There will be two Lonergans breaking down game film.
“I think I’m going to assist Mike for a while,” Maggie Lonergan said when asked about her plans. “Free of charge.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)