Syracuse limped to the finish line and ended its roller coaster of a season with a disappointing upset loss at home in the NIT. The roller coaster, though, continued on the first official day of the offseason.
Sunday, the Washington Huskies surprisingly announced Orange assistant coach Mike Hopkins as their next head coach, setting off a chain reaction of speculation. By the end of Sunday, Syracuse signed Jim Boeheim to a contract extension, which is being reported in some outlets as lacking an end date.
There are countless dynamics in play here. In June 2015, Syracuse created an exit strategy for Boeheim and announced that the 2017-’18 season would be his last. At that point, Hopkins, who had been the Orange head-coach-in-waiting since 2007, was to assume responsibilities as head coach.
But in February, Sports Illustrated reported Boeheim was at least considering staying past his initial three-year exit window. Rumors spread once again that Hopkins would have to wait even longer to become head coach of the Orange.
Perhaps tired of waiting, he’s now gone. Upon his departure, though, Sports Illustrated suggested the real reason for his departure was Hopkins felt too awkward about pushing his mentor out the door, or that he also finally realized he wanted to create his own legacy away from the shadow of Boeheim.
Regardless, Syracuse no longer has a coach in waiting and is at the mercy of old, cranky Boeheim. With all due respect to one of the greatest coaches college basketball has ever seen, that’s not a good thing for the Orange, who are just 28-28 in the ACC over the last three seasons.
If Hopkins, a man who had been in the program for 21 years, was nervous about succeeding Boeheim, that could turn off a lot of coaching candidates. Would a top of the line mid-major coach such as Archie Miller or Gregg Marshall leave their comfortable situations to replace a legend?
Maybe. Money could tempt a lot of people to move to Central New York, but the fact remains: Boeheim is Syracuse basketball. He’s somehow been involved with the program for 52 seasons, including 48 straight years. Prior to Boeheim’s playing days at Syracuse in 1966, the Orange had one Elite Eight appearance. Since then, they’ve had six Final Fours, five of which have come with him as head coach.
If hiring an experienced coach from another program proves to be difficult, then promoting a different assistant coach becomes a distinct possibility. Just like Boeheim and Hopkins, assistant coaches Adrian Autry and Gerry McNamara played at Syracuse and returned to coach at the school. Both have been on the Orange staff since 2011.
At 45, Autry is the older of the two. If Boeheim sticks around for two or three more seasons, that would give him nine seasons of experience as an assistant. That would be three more than Boeheim had before he earned the job.
McNamara is another interesting option. He is only 33, but McNamara followed the exact same path as Boeheim, joining the Syracuse staff as a graduate assistant three years after graduation. Including both of their tenures as graduate assistants, in four years McNamara will have twice as much experience as an SU assistant as Boeheim did. Even at 33, McNamara is already older than Boeheim was when he became coach.
Not knowing the timing of Boeheim’s departure makes it difficult to predict, but McNamara appears to be as good a “coach in-waiting” candidate as anybody. The fan base will love it, since he is a hero from the 2003 national championship team. That’s likely to keep him out of the “legend shadow.” His promotion would also keep the job in the “family,” something very important to the Syracuse basketball program. Age and experience might be viewed as an issue, but Boeheim had far less when he became coach in 1976.
Let’s be clear, Hopkins leaving is a big loss for Syracuse. Although it means Boeheim stays on indefinitely, it also raises a cloud of doubt over the future of the program. As it did for Joe Paterno at Penn State (well before scandals entered the picture — Penn State struggled on the field for many seasons in the latter period of his career), it could get difficult for Syracuse to recruit if its coach is on one-year contract every season.
For now, it’s anyone’s best guess who or when the Orange will have a new head coach, but at least the program appears to have some options already on its bench.