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Hopkins Continues To Hold Out For Boeheim’s Retirement

Credit Mike Hopkins for continuing to resist scratching the head coaching itch and holding out for Jim Boeheim to hang ’em up. It was confirmed Tuesday that Syracuse’s head coach-in-waiting hasn’t received any interest from Happy Valley about Penn State’s coaching vacancy, and it is the third instance in the past 15 months that he’s commented publicly about head coaching positions. In addition, these haven’t been Directional State Tech jobs. Hopkins’ name has been linked to two high-major programs in Penn State and NC State and one solid mid-major program in Charlotte. It’s widely accepted that PSU got to the NCAA Tournament in spite of its administration, not because of it, and NC State will always be third in North Carolina, but by definition, no school on the hunt for a coach at any given time is flawless. With each passing “thanks but no thanks” or “I haven’t heard from them,” Hopkins is building his value as a head coach before he’s coached a single game.

That’s not to say he hasn’t been instrumental in his current capacity – the results and phone calls speak for themselves. But when the reports of Syracuse’s officially-unofficial designation of Hopkins as the heir to Boeheim surfaced a few years ago, I was somewhat sheepish. While Boeheim was getting up there in years, what was the rush? There are certainly advantages to naming a head coach in-waiting in cases where the retirement of the present leader is relatively imminent. It has a calming effect on the fanbase, the administration saves time in a coaching search, time that an be better spent elsewhere, and lapses on the recruiting trail are theoretically reduced. It’s well-chronicled that as Gary Williams neared retirement, he steered away from the overflowing pool of AAU talent in Washington and Baltimore, and the Terrapins’ downfall over the last handful of seasons can be heavily attributed to the change in philosophy.

While it’s nice to have continuity in going with someone who’s been with the program, the process isn’t without its risk. The knock is that a school hedges away from ruling out the best candidate before he even hits the market if there’s someone more experienced or more accomplished as a head coach. There are also PR factors to consider, though no decision should be made solely based on the temperature of the fanbase. Syracuse is a job for which a vast majority of head coaches would move up. Hopkins has become a fixture at the Carrier Dome, but as an assistant, and if the worst-case scenario is realized and he doesn’t pan out as a head coach, Daryl Gross will have a lot of explaining to do. Still, Hopkins knows Syracuse basketball better than anyone in the house, save for the Per’fesser himself and his longtime cohort, Bernie Fine.

That may be reason enough to believe that Orange basketball will be just fine whenever the torch is passed, a point which Boeheim annually estimates as sooner rather than later. Maybe he’s holding out or his 900th win; maybe he wants to see if he can make a Final Four run with the incoming freshman class of McDonald’s All-Americans. Some pockets of SU fans are of the belief that Boeheim’s ability (or inability) to pluck DaJuan Coleman from Jamesville-DeWitt may impact the end game. That perspective seems a little far-fetched for my tastes, but it indicates that the finish line is out there somewhere, and Orange Nation is trying to find it, though if anyone knows where it is, it’s Jim Boeheim himself.

Until that line is crossed, Mike Hopkins’ phone will continue to ring. If the caller ID doesn’t list a school hoping to bring him in for an interview, it will list a reporter asking about his interest in vacant head coaching spots. Logic dictates that Hopkins would pay athletic directors more heed if he didn’t feel his time at Syracuse was coming soon, which gives credence to the notion that it won’t be long before it’s curtains on the Boeheim Era.

Either that, or he is incredibly patient.

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