WASHINGTON -- Four games into Kim English's tenure as a head coach, the world was at his feet. By all accounts, George Mason had made a home run hire after stunning the Maryland Terrapins on their home court. The excitement for a once-dormant fan base was invigorated and it looked as if all was going to be restored at one of America's mid-major darlings.
Four months later and Mason's season is ending as most programs do with a first-year head coach: an early-round exit in their conference tournament.
It was not without a rollercoaster of results throughout the season. Right after the then-top 25 upset over the Terrapins, it was followed up with a five-game losing streak. Upsets over Dayton and St. Bonaventure sent expectations sky-high again, just to end the season losing nine of their last 12 contests.
Losing to Fordham was the final feather to be plucked on the season. The perpetual bottom-dweller of the Atlantic 10 completed a sweep of the Patriots, also with a first-year head coach in Kyle Neptune.
English was quick to point out how unacceptable the 54-49 loss was in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Based on how the season spiraled, this is what he felt the team deserved.
"As disappointing as a loss as we had this season, an embarrassing loss, embarrassing ending, but fitting, fitting, fitting," English said to open his postgame press conference. "You don't often get what you deserve in life. You get what you earn. For too many times this season, we haven't had the right habits, the right toughness and moments to consistently earn wins."
And the loss to Neptune's bunch for a second time represents a notable measuring stick for English and company. Both were young, ascending assistants under legendary coaches - Neptune assisting Jay Wright at Villanova and English behind Rick Barnes just one year ago at Tennessee. Both are in their first job, both taking over programs that haven't had much success in the past decade.
Yet, despite all the hoopla behind English with his charisma that made him an early-season sensation, it's Fordham and Neptune whose season plays on, whose regular season finished higher than the Patriots. English had far more talent (two Power 5 transfers) and stabilization with his roster (the return of All-Atlantic 10 honoree Josh Oduro) than Neptune did in the Bronx.
In both matchups this year, Neptune came across with the better coaching job. He forced Mason to play to their weaknesses - an offense not centered around Oduro (11 points), forced to play in the half-court - and Fordham was relentless with their attack in the paint.
At season's end, once boisterous cries from the nearby Maryland and Missouri (English's alma mater) fan bases for him to be their next coach have grown fainter and fainter.
"You can talk about close games all you want. You are what your record says you are. And in this first season, we're 14-16 and it was earned," English said. But it's something that our guys who will be returning will feel, need to feel every single bit of it -- of the anguish, of the embarrassment, of everything. Our staff, me everyone. And we will. And we'll learn from it."
All that said, it's still the first year for English at the helm of a program, ever. A lot of pivotal talent is coming back for George Mason, including Atlantic 10 First-Teamer Oduro, point guard Xavier Johnson, Tennessee transfer Davonte Gaines, in addition to Morehead State transfer Devon Cooper having another year of eligibility.
The first year was a learning process for English. He's already wanting to attack a new season.
"A lot of lessons, a ton. A ton. Trying to improve in certain areas throughout the season and in preparation and in-game coaching, it's been great. You've got to go through it," English said.
"I told the guys, every single lapse, it falls back on me. Like, I am not pushing this on these kids. It's not on them. It's on me to hold them accountable."
As English says, Mason's record was earned for a variety of reasons. He pointed to players not maintaining their standard of toughness, staying disciplined, a lack of ball security. All being common criticisms of teams that aren't quite ready to take the next step. It resulted in the Patriots' first losing season since 2017-18.
But rebuilds are intended to have their bumps and bruises. All things considered, English's Patriots maintained the status quo in Year 1.
"It's been a great -- I learned a ton. I have learned a ton and I'm really just excited about where our program is going," English said. "Frustrating season. Incredibly frustrating, but all of my frustrated nights of watching film, I always have a chuckle of encouragement because knowing where we are going to be, with what we have and we will continue to bring in."