Called to Be: Access & Excellence

Title:Coaches in conversation

Author: Jane Varner Malhotra
Date Published: October 12, 2023
Tasha Butts
Photo: Phil Humnicky

As this magazine went to press in October, we learned the heartbreaking news that Georgetown’s new women’s basketball head coach Tasha Butts died after a two-year struggle with breast cancer.

The Georgetown community is grateful for the leadership, wisdom, and care Coach Butts offered. We are honored to share this story of her in conversation with new men’s basketball head coach Ed Cooley, as they sat down together in June to discuss what’s ahead for Hoya hoops.

On making a home at Georgetown, and rebuilding

TB (Tasha Butts): Basketball has afforded me the opportunity to play all around the world and live in different countries. To make this home for me is a dream come true. I don’t think a first year head coach could ask for a better situation.

EC (Ed Cooley): It’s meant to be that we’re here together, right? It’s exciting for me, after 53 years in [Providence, Rhode Island]. This feels like home after being here a short time, with the legacy and history and tradition.

TB: Even though I’m leaving Georgia, my family is a family of change. In our lives that’s what we’re used to.

EC: Change is hard, but I’m looking forward to this challenge that’s ahead for us both.

TB: It’s exciting and unique that two programs are rebuilding at the same time, and we’ve chosen to do this together. We understand that our programs need each other, our fan bases need each other, our support systems need each other.

EC: The legacy and tradition here at Georgetown is iconic. To reestablish and rebuild our basketball programs is going to take a community effort. I can see things moving in the right direction. The alumni have been amazing. We’re all going to do this together.

Tasha butts and ed cooley
Photo By: Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

On basketball and gender equity in sports

TB: I come from the schools of Pat Summit, of Mickie DeMoss, who were at the forefront of gender equity and Title IX, making sure our voices are heard. As I was coming up at Tennessee, we had separate athletic departments for women and men. I saw women in charge of running things and the collaboration with the two departments. That collaboration allowed everyone to win.

EC: I’m so proud to see how far it’s come, but I’m also excited to see how far it’s going to go. When you look around at the balance of not just gender equity but inclusion of everything, like religion and race, I think Georgetown opens up the door of opportunity for equality. We are one, we are a family, we are united— we’ve got to make sure that we are leaders in that conversation.

TB: I want to make sure that our team, our young women, know: you are important, your voice matters. You belong and there’s not a room that you should feel uncomfortable sitting in.

EC: I look at equity across the board, the opportunity for men and women of different cultural backgrounds to become head coach. Times have changed and we’re part of that change. We’ve got to make sure we continue to talk about equity, equality, and balance, so our voices are not just heard, but there’s action behind our words.

Tasha Butts and Ed cooley
Photo By: Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

On the transfer portal

TB: Our game has completely changed with the transfer portal. I made some really good additions to our team through it. Do I think that it could get out of control? Absolutely.

When you see over 1500 kids in that portal, the aunt in me, the caring person in me, the coach in me, has a concern. Where will the rest of those young men and young women go if they don’t land [at a new university]? A lot of people say, “Oh, hop in the portal when things aren’t going right.” But not everyone gets that happy ending.

EC: We’re still in the infancy stage of it, still trying to see how it works. I think the portal allows kids to have opportunity and choice, but I don’t think it allows young men and women to work through adversity. It is transformational in our sport and we’ve benefited. We’re able to identify student athletes that fit our style, our philosophy. But not everybody’s going to have that level of success.

Tasha Butts and Ed Cooley
Photo By: Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

On self-care and gratitude for coaches and players

EC: Self-care, emotional wellness, and mental health is so important for all of us. My concentration is reestablishing Georgetown’s basketball program, but I have to take a step back and do a better job at self-care—not just for myself, but for the players, for my family, and for our community. If I’m not healthy as the leader, I don’t know how you can have a healthy program.

TB: And I’ll say this, Coach, that I have put my health at the forefront. Because if you do your research, you know my story. [Being diagnosed with cancer] changed how I operate when it comes to my mental health, my physical health, and my wellbeing. When I got ready to take this job, one thing that you said to me was take a moment to smell the flowers.

EC: Absolutely.

TB: And that is something that I have held onto since. It’s as simple as every morning I start my day, make my cup of coffee, and sit at the window for 20 minutes in complete silence. And I tell our kids to do that as well. Take a moment for you, for your mental health. And when it comes to the physical part, don’t take things for granted. Understand that you have one body and you need to take care of it, whatever that means for you. Take that moment for yourself.

EC: I’m working at it. I practice gratitude every day.

TB: Yeah, it’s not easy. But it’s the same way that we tell our kids in order for them to get better, they must practice daily. It’s consistency. It’s an everyday effort to do that one thing.

EC: Thank you, coach. We’re going to be here for one another. I have so much respect and look forward to us working together hand in hand.

TB: I’m looking forward to us being able to have these conversations on a regular basis so that I can continue to learn and grow in this space, not only as a head coach, but as a person. Thank you for this fellowship.

Editor’s note: Darnell Haney has been named Georgetown’s interim women’s head coach. The Hoyas and Big East Conference will continue to honor Coach Butts’ memory all season, keeping her #TashaTough initiative going to bring awareness to early cancer screenings and detection.

View a video of their conversation from June 2023 >

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