Orange Watch: ACC rivals provide blueprint for next Syracuse basketball coach

Wildhack Presser
Jun 8, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse athletics director John Wildhack speaks with reporters about Syracuse head coach John Desko's retirement.

Item: We all know Jim Boeheim’s going to coach forever, right? But whenever it is time to announce the name of only the eighth basketball coach in Syracuse program’s current 118 years of existence, the likelihood is overwhelming that Boeheim’s successor will have a Syracuse pedigree.

Those in business leadership always have to cover their bases. Especially in today’s world of instantaneous communication. Once something is uttered in real time at an event or on social media, it’s permanent, no deleting.

So, naturally, Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack has to proclaim that when it comes time to zero in on a successor to Boeheim’s legendary career building the program’s regional name to national prominence from scratch, he says he’s going to find the best candidate to take the reins, period.

“We’re (proceeding) as we did with men’s lacrosse,” Wildhack said at his June 15 academic year-end press conference. “We hired Gary (Gait) not because he’s an alum, because we thought he was the best person to be the leader of our men’s lacrosse program. We’ll apply the same criteria to our men’s basketball program.”

While that certainly sounds like a person in charge, consistently evaluating performance and reviewing the succession plans for each of the seven men’s sports and 11 women’s sports programs Wildhack oversees, after what North Carolina by appointing alum and assistant coach Hubert Davis to now follow the retired Roy Williams, and Duke following suit identically with the selection of John Scheyer to take the reins in 2022 from Mike Krzyzewski, how can Boeheim’s successor NOT be a current member of the coaching staff and alumni to boot?

There’s no doubt both Williams and Krzyzewski had the direct path to controlling each of their longtime programs’ future destinies by submitting their name of choice to their respective administrations. That’s something Boeheim has earned the right to do as well, essentially hand-picking his replacement.

After Coach K announced his retirement plans June 2, the speculation immediately shifted to the next school in the three-domino row of UNC, Duke, and SU, with two of the trio of Hall of Fame coaches putting a finality to their tenures, it begged the questions: How much longer would Boeheim coach, and who would be his successor?

“It’s relevant when you see Coach K and Coach Williams step aside,” Wildhack responded when asked about how he envisioned a strategy to name Boeheim’s heir. “I’ve always spent some time in terms of succession planning for all of our sports. You identify a list of candidates, every AD (athletic director) does that. Internal candidates, external candidates. At the right time, we’ll address that.”

The time is not perhaps in the near future but it is sometime this decade, and it’s likely to follow suit with an assistant coach ascending to the head job like at Carolina and Duke.

Wildhack opened up a little more candidly on the speculation surrounding current 1-2 assistants Red Autry and Gerry McNamara during his June 16 sit down with Matt Park on the athletic department’s periodic “Evening Huddle” series of interviews.

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“We’re blessed to have two people (Autry and McNamara) who are here, who I think are outstanding at what they do,” Wildhack said. “Not only as recruiters but how they develop (players). It’s really important to me in evaluating the potential coach, can they develop players? What can you do to develop that player to their full potential?”

That is Wildhack’s buzzword, “develop,” and describes in a nutshell what he will insist upon the next coach’s strength. Now he has time on his side before making a most thoughtful decision with Boeheim’s input.

Said Wildhack on “Evening Huddle”: “Number one, I don’t have a specific number of years in mind (to retirement) for Coach Boeheim. Number two, we’re still a very successful program, we made the Sweet 16, we had a heck of a run at the end of the year.”

“This is not a program in need of a total makeover, so in that sense there’s not a sense of urgency that I feel that we have to do something immediately because this program is in a free-fall. It’s not,” Wildhack said firmly. “We still compete at a very, very high level so that gives me some comfort and allows me to maybe be a little bit more thorough in my evaluation.”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.