From the outside looking in, this Hopkins hire was as unconventional as it was underwhelming.
OK, Jennifer Cohen, this one is on you.
Four days had passed since Lorenzo Romar was ousted as head coach of the Washington men’s basketball team, a post he held for 15 years. Four days had passed since Cohen, the first-year athletic director, made a move that likely cost the Huskies the nation’s No. 1 recruit in Michael Porter Jr.
The decision divided the public, with myriad UW fans fuming over a firing that discarded the best recruiting class in program history. But there were also those who beamed at the possibilities of who might come to Montlake.
Would it be Eric Musselman, the former NBA coach who resurrected Nevada basketball with the speed of a drag racer’s right foot? Might it be Archie Miller, the Dayton coach who’s taken the Flyers to four straight Dances and an Elite Eight?
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Surely someone with track record would be lured to a Power 5 school in one of America’s most dynamic cities, right? Then came Sunday’s announcement: Mike Hopkins.
Yeah, I had to Google him, too.
A 21-year assistant at Syracuse, Hopkins was tabbed to take over the Orange when Jim Boeheim finally retired. He is said to have been highly influential in recruiting Carmelo Anthony, Rakeem Christmas, Johnny Flynn, Jason Hart, Gerry McNamara and other former Syracuse stars.
USC and Washington State have shown interest in him, and his ex-players seem to love him But he’s still a lifelong assistant tasked with rebuilding a major program on the opposite coast of his former school.
Have you scanned the coaches of the Pac-12’s top teams? Dana Altman led Creighton to seven NCAA tournament appearances before landing in Oregon. Sean Miller took Xavier to four straight tourneys — including an Elite Eight and Sweet 16 — before Arizona scooped him up. UCLA’s Steve Alford won three Mountain West titles in six years at New Mexico, Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak went to two Dances in two years with Montana, and USC’s Andy Enfield became the first coach to take a 15-seed to the Sweet 16 at Florida Gulf Coast.
From the outside looking in, this Hopkins hire was as unconventional as it was underwhelming, Could it work out extraordinarily in the end? Maybe. Either way, Jennifer Cohen, this is on you.
It’s on you to give Hopkins what he needs, too. No doubt there have been hires sans head-coaching experience who have had success at new schools.
Tom Crean coached under Tom Izzo at Michigan State for four years before leading Marquette to five tournament appearances and a Final Four. Quin Snyder spent six years under Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski before leading Missouri to four straight tournaments. And, of course, former Dean Smith disciple Roy Williams went to four Final Fours at Kansas after leaving North Carolina.
But none of those coaches had to revive a program that hadn’t made the tournament in six seasons. And if Hopkins is going to to do that, he is going to need money for quality assistants.
Those are the guys pounding the pavement on the recruiting trail, where UW is essentially starting from scratch. Those are the guys responsible for player development, which seemed to evaporate in Romar’s final years.
The difference between this program going up or down may depend on who Hopkins has to his left and right.
So will he have the resources to lure the best people for the job?
Few will dispute that Cohen played an integral role in bringing UW football coach Chris Petersen to Seattle, but Hopkins is her first major hire as AD. It will be interesting to see just how much cash the athletic department sends his way. And while you can’t ignore that UW is paying off a significant stadium-construction debt, you can’t overlook the opportunity Cohen has, too.
Right now at Washington, there is a football team just made the CFP semifinals, a women’s basketball team trying to reach its second straight Final Four, a national-championship winning women’s golf team, a women’s volleyball team fresh off an Elite Eight appearance, a baseball team that went to the regionals last year, a softball team that went to the super regionals, and one of the best rowing traditions of all time.
Throw in a top-tier men’s basketball teams, and suddenly Washington is one of the elite sports universities in the country. But they’re not there yet.
There is a lot to like about Mike Hopkins. He has had to do everything, from recruit, to game plan, to develop personnel. He has also been an assistant for Team USA and clearly has a vision he can sell.
But there’s a lot to wonder about him as well. The 18 inches from an assistant coach’s chair to the head coach’s may be the most revealing in basketball.
Nobody saw this hire coming. Doesn’t mean it was a bad one — just that it was a surprising one.
It took a lot of guts for Cohen to make that call. She’ll also take a lot of blame — or praise — based on the results.