Answering the other big question for the Syracuse basketball team

Hopkins will officially succeed Boeheim
Hopkins will likely succeed Boeheim

Last month in this space, I wrote an unemotional look about how the penalties levied by the NCAA would affect the Syracuse men’s basketball program. The original intent was to examine two major parts of head coach Jim Boeheim’s media address at the end of the season, but the column grew (and grew and grew), so the second major announcement Boeheim dropped was pushed off until now.

With the longtime head coach announcing that morning he would remain on the job for three more years, a few questions regarding who would succeed the Hall of Famer rose to light once more. So, who follows Boeheim? And how does a change in athletic director play in?

Well, to start off, set Mister Peabody’s Wayback Machine not for two-and-a-half months but for a little more than eight years ago. Back then, Andy Katz of reported multiple sources saying that Mike Hopkins “and the university finally have reached an agreement to put a succession plan in writing” and a formal announcement was expected in the upcoming weeks. No official announcement ever came, however.

Of course, many sources have since used the phrase “coach-in-waiting” to describe Hopkins as the years have passed. Long-time SU hoops beat writer Mike Waters? Check. Associated Press? Sure. An old relic from days of yore called the New York Times? Uh huh. Daryl Gross uttered the magic words in an interview when he was AD and on and on and on.

In short, the 20-year assistant coach who also boasts the highest career three-point shooting percentage on the coaching staff (you think Gerry McNamara is tired of hearing that?) has long been expected to slide into the head coach’s seat whenever it is that Boeheim decides his career is finished.

Even with connections and interest from either one or both sides of the equation in various other job openings over the last decade (St. Bonaventure, Charlotte, USC, Boston College, and Oregon State among them), Hopkins has still been stapled to Boeheim’s side. The latter three of those jobs are higher profile and have come open in the last three years, but if you are one of those schools, are you interested in hiring a guy who already has an opportunity to leave for a much better job and would likely do it in a handful of years?

So, when Boeheim announced his retirement plan and there was no subsequent announcement that Hopkins would take over at that time, speculation began about the succession plan. Would the new athletic director select Hopkins or run a full job search? And who would Chancellor Kent Syverud tap to fill the AD opening?

Syracuse University’s very high athletic profile makes their athletic director position an appealing one for candidates. They boast a football program in one of the “Power Five” conferences, one of the dozen premier men’s basketball programs, and many successful non-revenue sports (a pair of elite lacrosse programs, a women’s basketball program on the rise, a national contender in field hockey, men’s cross country, and a men’s soccer program that was ranked atop the national polls at one point last fall).

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There are also other things that make the AD position at Syracuse very intriguing. What happens with the Carrier Dome? Renovation, replacement, both? Having a major role in that would be a tremendous opportunity for the next athletic director. Also, should the football program remain stagnant… Well, that’s for another day a couple years from now.

Oh, and the head coaching position at the top of that powerhouse men’s basketball program is currently slated to be open in three years. Should it be deemed an open hiring process, the line of candidates will appear to be long and distinguished.

Or, at least it could be that way, should there not be signed paperwork between the university and Hopkins regarding that pesky “coach-in-waiting” thing.

In the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions, Syverud said he thinks very highly of Hopkins and that he would be reaching out to him frequently. Hopkins stated he had been in conversations with the chancellor and is comfortable with those discussions. Thus, Hopkins is in play for the head coaching job.

But, how does that play into the athletic director search? After all, being the person who hires the replacement to a Hall of Fame coach is certainly a nice perk that should come with the job.

SU has hired a search firm to fill the athletic director position. Any candidate worth their salt would know already about the “coach-in-waiting” status that may or may not have been bestowed on Hopkins, so the firm would not be surprising anyone with that information, should it be true.

So, if Hopkins is officially the coach-in-waiting, does that affect the AD search?

It should not. Hopkins and the new athletic director will have three years to build a relationship as Boeheim winds down his career, not to mention Hopkins is currently scheduled for a month-long audition for the gig in January 2016. In three years, the AD will have plenty of personal experience with Hopkins to draw from. (Having only met Hopkins on two brief occasions, he’s personable, upbeat, and bright. You have to try very hard to have a bad relationship with him.)

And if Hopkins is not officially the coach-in-waiting?

In three years, the AD would make Hopkins his first candidate for the job simply due to his time on the bench, playing career at SU, relationships with players and incoming recruits, and on and on, even if there was no agreement already made. So, the first crack at the job is going to Hopkins, one way or another.

If the new athletic director decides to go in a different direction and get an established head coach (possibly to put his/her own stamp on the program), there is one minor detail: Syracuse does not pay their current men’s basketball coach that well compared to many other programs.

In USA Today’s annual list of salaries for coaches in the NCAA Tournament, Boeheim’s 2013-2014 salary was a little over $1.8 million. That placed him 23rd, behind such noted coaches as Josh Pastner at Memphis, Travis Ford at Oklahoma State, and Dana Altman of Oregon. In the following year’s list, John Thompson III of Georgetown, Matt Painter of Purdue, Mike Anderson of Arkansas, and Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin all cleared $2 million.

Oh, and Chancellor Syverud recently announced that the budgets across campus will be tightened. That gives no reason to think the Syracuse basketball coach’s salary will not continue to lag behind many lesser programs. The possibility of a “hometown discount” from Hopkins is just another reason to bump him up to the head coaching spot.

Unless some small school coach really rockets out of obscurity in the next couple years, (and brings a load of top-notch recruiting connections with him to help get the job), few head coaches are going to look at the Syracuse job in the same way that Hopkins does.

So, while it was not made clear who will take over when Boeheim steps down, the smart money is on Hopkins.

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About Jim Stechschulte 894 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by He currently resides in Syracuse.