The conclusion to the Quentin Hillsman era at Syracuse could be quickly approaching. 11 players left the program this offseason, which was worrying enough, but then The Athletic reported allegations of threats, bullying and inappropriate behavior by Hillsman at the end of June, which prompted an investigation by the university. I know everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but where there is smoke, there is fire.
With Hillsman’s future at SU murky at best, it got me thinking about who could potentially replace him. This opening would be appealing to prospective coaches. A chance to coach in a Power 5 conference at a school which has shown the ability to land top recruits should attract some exciting options.
This is far from a complete list of who the Orange could consider. It is hard to know which direction the school will go given the circumstances and the timing. But it’s still worth breaking down who might be sitting on the Syracuse sideline this winter.
Staying close to home
Right off the bat, Vonn Read would likely warrant consideration. He has been an assistant at SU since the 2011-12 season and was promoted to associate head coach in 2013. He made stops at Kentucky and Albany before joining SU. Read also has experience coaching in the NBA and the WNBA. There is no question he is talented, plus he has familiarity with the program and a wealth of recruiting ties. The biggest barrier might be the optics. Not that promoting your accomplished assistant coach is a bad look, but when there is a toxic culture around the team, it might be best to start fresh.
Perhaps Syracuse could take a trip to Poughkeepsie and attempt to lure Brian Giorgis away from Marist. He has amassed an impressive 443-164 record with the Red Foxes and even has a Sweet 16 appearance under his belt. In addition to his impressive spell at Marist, he served as an assistant for Team USA at the World University Games in 2013. Giorgis is fresh off an 18-4 season, a MAAC regular-season and tournament title and an NCAA tournament appearance. It would definitely be a step up in competition and more pressure, but he knows the area well and has the necessary experience. He just scooped Kiara Fisher away from Syracuse. That has to say something about his ability to recruit.
The likelihood is that Syracuse will have to look outside the state of New York in its coaching search. That could lead them to Storrs, CT. UConn consistently develops and produces great players and coaches. Chris Dailey is never leaving, but Jamelle Elliott could be tempted to again. She was an assistant at UConn from 1998-2009, but left to become the head coach at Cincinnati. She didn’t have the best of times with the Bearcats, but she is learning from the best women’s coach ever again, so maybe there will be some improvement.
Karen Blair could be a name to watch. Maryland promoted her to associate head coach in 2020. The Terps have been one of the best programs in the country in recent years. She has prior experience as the head coach at VCU as well. While many tab her as next in line at College Park, I’m not so sure Blair would wait. She is not a Maryland grad and could relish the opportunity to land a Power 5 head coaching role. She is a proven and well-established recruiter as well. Mike Hopkins did the same thing on the men’s side, and he was at his alma mater. Blair would be a really good get for the Orange.
Another name to keep an eye on is Yolanda Griffith. The former WNBA and Team USA star has plenty of coaching experience in her time at Albany and Boston College as an assistant. She would get to stay in the ACC with a move to SU. Her standing in the sport, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014, would certainly cause a ripple in CNY.
Not many former Syracuse players are involved in coaching. However, there are a few former coaches who could come into play. It has only been a year, but DeLisha Milton-Jones could return one year after taking the top job at Old Dominion. A two-time Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA star has the credentials to lead a Power 5 program. She only spent one season at SU, but that could be enough of a tie to make her a front-runner for the position.
Elsewhere, Tammi Reiss is now the head coach at Rhode Island. She hasn’t dominated the A-10, but she has done well enough to be in the mix. She left Hillsman’s staff in 2019, but she is a New York native. I think she would be very interested in the position.
Kelley Gibson is a former Quentin Hillsman assistant now coaching at Miami. She previously learned under Vivian C. Stringer at Rutgers as well. She has been around long enough that she probably deserves a shot at being a head coach.
I almost included her in the SU Connection section, but maybe the Orange go after Julie McBride. She is a legend at SU and would be a very fun spark for the program. The issue is that she is still playing in Poland. Now, at the age of 38, maybe she is thinking about retiring, but she also has no prior coaching experience. There is a reason I chose this category instead.
Natalie Nakase would be a splashy hire. A former UCLA player, she was an assistant on Doc Rivers staff with the Clippers before Rivers was fired in 2020. Now she works for LA’s G-League affiliate. Would the potential to take the top job be enough to get Nakase out of SoCal? That’s hard to know, but it would certainly be an avenue worth exploring.