Inside Pitch Magazine, July/August 2022

Cover Interview: Edwin Thompson, Georgetown University

The Details that Matter

by Adam Revelette

Inside Pitch Magazine Cover with Edwin ThompsonIn just his second full season at Georgetown University, Edwin Thompson led the Hoyas to program records in wins (32) and home runs (98) en route to their first Big East Baseball Championship berth since 2018 and first winning season since 1986. Georgetown also landed a pair of players on the ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division I All-Region First Team for the first time in 19 years. For their efforts, Thompson and his staff captured the program’s first Coaching Staff of the Year award in 2022. Prior to Georgetown, Thompson was the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University and served as an assistant at Georgia State and Duke. He began his baseball coaching career in his home at University of Maine Farmington. 

Inside Pitch: What’s the ride been like since taking the job at Georgetown?

Edwin Thompson: My first year, we had seven days to train before our first game because of COVID. Our first practice was March 27th and we played on April 6th. It felt like it took an extra two weeks to learn everyone’s names because they all had masks on. We’d only met on a few Zoom calls the previous semester. “Who are you again? What’s that person’s name?”

It was a wild time for all of us. Before we knew it the season was over and we’re on the road recruiting. But that following fall, we laid the groundwork that our program was all about competition, which it’s always going to be. We wanted to establish the culture that we’re going to be competitive in everything we do—academically, off the field, in the community. That really set that foundation for the expectations we set for ourselves.

IP: How did you turn things around so quickly? 
ET: We really put a point of emphasis on the details. It was so hard that first year because we lost nine games by two runs or fewer, and obviously your messaging as a coach can get lost when you’re not winning. But we really tried to keep the group together and not worry about all the challenges we had with being so far behind in innings and at-bats and practice time. We really just focused on what we could control with our effort and our competitive nature.

There were plenty of teachable moments on the field, but off the field as well. One day we left a bunch of hangers on the floor in the locker room, so we addressed that—“these are the types of details that matter.” Those foundational pieces of our program really took place in that first year because we had nothing else to do but learn. Our thought process was to get all the details synced up, to make sure our players understood about the little things and how to do them well. 

IP: When did you sense your program was heading in the right direction? 
ET: We hit six home runs as a team in 2021. And that next year in one of our fall games, we hit five. So we were like, “This may be a different team.” We realized we were turning it in the right direction in terms of the personnel, but having that time to plan and practice and develop the guys we already had was just as important. Our theme throughout each week was just try to have a winning week. 3-2, 2-1, 3-1, whatever it was, win the week. That mindset carried over into conference play and down the stretch for us and it was just a fun, fun ride. 

IP: What do you look for when you’re on the road recruiting? 
ET: Number one, I look for people that I want to be around. No matter if I’m at a Division III school, in the ACC or now, it always comes back to the people. The environment you want to have is to be around good people. Talent is always the easiest component to recognize, and you’re going to miss on that piece anyway, because they may not project like you’d hoped, or they get injured. But if I get the right person I have a chance to help them, and they can help us by adding the value of who they are as individuals, regardless of their role on the field. 

You do have to adapt to account for the school you’re coaching at. Not everybody wants the challenge of being at a prestigious academic school. I wasn’t a great student myself. You want the kids to fit the school and the community, but I’ve never changed the type of competitor, the type of person I’m looking for.

IP: How have you approached recruiting such a diverse roster?
ET: Every school is going to be different, they’re going to have different opportunities for minorities and players in general. I want our team to mirror our university. I think that’s an important part of any college athletics team. You want to be able to represent the university as a whole. Having a diverse roster really does allow for growth within your program. Everyone can hear different stories about where they’re from, their upbringing and their own cultures. That can really blend a team together. 

IP: So it’s an intentional effort? 
ET: It is definitely an intentional effort. It’s important to provide opportunities for those that don’t always get an opportunity, whether you’re from the mountains of Kentucky or the inner city of Chicago. I want to provide those same opportunities for these players who aren’t on the main “circuit,” if you will. That’s who I am, after all. I’m a minority from a small town in Maine. And regardless of race, finding ways to get players in who are from “underserved” baseball areas and communities in general can really have a positive impact on your program.

IP: Do you think there’s been a pipeline effect over time with your programs and minority players? 
ET: Yeah, I think there is. You develop an environment that’s welcoming, where opportunity is going to be earned and not given just because of your recruiting ranking, at the end of the day, people respect that, and word gets out: “this program does it right.” And a lot of programs do it right—we just want to make sure we’re one of them. 

If you’re a high school coach in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, you want to send your players to a program that’s going to give your kids a real chance. The same is true for any other diverse communities out there. So what’s served us really well are the relationships with those coaches and most importantly, the players. They are our best recruiters. So when they go back home and they’re wearing that “Georgetown” shirt and working out with everyone, kids that look up to them can say, “I could go there.” I think it’s vital to have that type of reputation.
IP: In addition to having a diverse roster, you’ve got quite a diverse coaching resume as well, right?
ET: My first coaching job was as a middle school JV basketball coach. I’ve done high school basketball, high school football, middle school track, even college football. Those experiences have allowed me to have perspective. You learn from different people and you learn how other programs do it, how other sports do it. Those experiences still shape how I run our program today, especially with practice. The structure of football practice and the time/space efficiency of basketball drills have had a direct impact on how we run our practices. 

IP: How do you go about hiring assistants? 
ET: A lot of my staff I met through camps, which are great because I get to see how you work, and that you don’t mind the grind. And I also think it’s important to have a diverse background. I’m a former Division III coach, so having guys that coach at smaller schools is neat. There are no guarantees that everyone gets that opportunity. If I didn’t get an opportunity after six years in DIII to go to Duke, I don’t know where I would be. I’m so grateful for my old boss, Sean McNally, to have given me that chance. Now, that’s what I try to do with other young guys, and it’s worked out really well. A lot of them come in and have success and move on, but that initial opportunity can be hard to come by. And there’s nothing worse than the “Well, you don’t have any recruiting experience.” How can you get recruiting experience if you don’t get a chance to recruit? It’s no different than the process for becoming a head coach. 

IP: So did you always have this goal in mind? And if you did, then what’s your advice to the middle school coach that does want to be a Division I coach one day? 
ET: I think the best compliment I got when I was coaching middle school basketball was when my athletic director told me it reminded them of a college program. I really didn’t know, so I said, “Well, we’re trying to be structured, organized, detailed, and have our kids working hard. If that’s a college program, great.” But that’s what any athlete deserves to get out of their sport, regardless of the level. And I think wherever you want to be, treat it like your dream job. That way when that dream job or that next opportunity is there for you, you can be more prepared and have less things to change.

IP: You’re at a place in Georgetown that’s seen the likes of John Thompson, Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing. What’s a good “Wow. This is a different type of place,” story for you? 
ET: Probably the first time I met Coach Ewing in the hallway. He won a national championship here, he was a Dream Team member, he went toe to toe with Michael Jordan, and he was in Space Jam! Growing up, he was a centerpiece of that era in sports, and just his presence represents that link from that time in the ‘80s, from that John Thompson heyday. Coach Ewing’s advice to me was, “Just be yourself. Georgetown takes care of itself, so just be yourself and don’t try to be anybody else.”

John Thompson actually passed away the day that I was hired, so that was incredibly sad, but I go to work at the Thompson Center and his statue is in the hallway, so you can still feel that presence every day, which is inspiring to me as a coach and as a person.

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