NEW YORK — His Providence College debut against Columbia will mark the 64th game of Kim English’s head coaching career.
Rick Pitino reached that mark with Boston University early in the 1980-81 season — more than seven years before English was born.
It won’t just be the Friars on the floor who will be running a Big East men’s basketball gauntlet in this upcoming 2023-24 season. English will face the stiffest nightly challenge of his career after two years at George Mason.
Pitino’s return to the league with St. John’s after a successful stint at Iona just added to the existing iron. Seven coaches have reached at least the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament and four have advanced to the Final Four. Dan Hurley is coming off a first national championship at Connecticut, the third time in the last seven editions of March Madness a team from the league has cut down the nets.
“I looked at him when they were going over that list and said, ‘Kim, I can’t wait for you to add to that. We’ll be talking about you like that some day,’ ” Providence athletic director Steve Napolillo said. “All these great coaches were Kim one day. They all came in this way.”
English surged late in 2022-23 with the Patriots, authoring a seven-game winning streak prior to an Atlantic 10 Tournament loss to Saint Louis. He took out Maryland and Georgia early in his first season with George Mason, suggesting a quick connection with his roster after replacing Dave Paulsen. English also posted a 2-0 record against annual contender Dayton, including a February win last season that all but finished the Flyers in their hopes for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.
“Still the same guy,” said Providence big man Josh Oduro, who followed English from the Patriots for a graduate year. “Not a thing has changed. Attention to detail, focus, discipline – it’s all the same.
“He treated an A-10 job at George Mason like it was the Washington Wizards job or an NBA job.”
Providence tabbed English early in the search process to replace Ed Cooley, who bolted for Georgetown after a seventh NCAA bid with the Friars. Cooley was a Naismith National Coach of the Year who helped power the program to its first Sweet 16 in 25 years. The connection to his hometown made Cooley something of a folk hero before what could only be described from the outside as a stunning turn of events.
“Win for that city,” Cooley said. “Win for that state. That’s the economic engine downtown. Be as successful as you can be, because he’s going to be supported at an elite level there. It’s something I’m proud to have been a really, really small part of building with the administration and that fan base.
“Lastly, just take care of himself. Because it can suffocate you. These jobs can suffocate you.”
Cooley said it was a family decision to ultimately depart after 12 years — his wife, Nurys, and their two adult children all had a stake in the process. English’s ties to the region come through a stop at Notre Dame Prep on his way to being a four-year guard at Missouri. He’s raced up to speed quickly in terms of recruiting New England’s prep ranks and settling with his family.
“Less advice (from Cooley) and more just he speaks so highly of the city, of the support, of the alignment and of the people,” English said. “It was a huge part of his career. Very thankful for all his efforts.”
Shaka Smart stunned the sport while reaching a Final Four with VCU and authored another surprise when he swept league and tournament titles last season with Marquette. Greg McDermott at Creighton, Hurley, Pitino, Sean Miller at Xavier, Cooley and Thad Matta at Butler are all past the first decade of their respective careers as head coaches. They all lead programs that have reached the NCAA Tournament at least once since the league realigned for the 2013-14 season — only DePaul has been left out of the fun.
“I’m about the work,” Hurley said. “I’m about the desperation to do it again and try to make history this year.”
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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: PC’s Kim English will coach only the 64th game of his career on opening night