Jim Boeheim's Replacement: If Not Mike Hopkins, Then Shaka Smart?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Bringing up conversations that are never really dead, but never really alive either...

Back in March, April and May, were were talking an awful lot about current Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins. Like a WHOLE LOT:

Mike Hopkins Reportedly Passed Over For Oregon State Head Coaching Job
HopkinsWatch: Syracuse's Mike Hopkins Not Under Consideration For Cal Job
HopkinsWatch: Mike Hopkins Out Of BC Discussion, Per Report
HopkinsWatch: All Quiet On The Boston Front…For Now
HopkinsWatch: Could Cal Get Back In This Another Way?
HopkinsBCWatch: Tommy Amaker Staying At Harvard, Is Hopkins Plan B?
Mike Hopkins Interviewing For Boston College Gig This Weekend
Somebody's Got A Case Of The 'Coulds' With Mike Hopkins
Syracuse Basketball: Mike Hopkins Is On The Perpetual Short List

All of this, of course, lend to the typical hand-wringing about how long is too long for Hopkins to wait, people preaching "patience" and the continually awkward conversation about when Boeheim should call it quits. Sean and I even brought it up for an extended period of time during a podcast oddly focused on "The Bachelorette." No matter what happens next in terms of SU's program and its coach, things will be different. There are no guarantees at all, whether the choice is Hopkins, or someone else entirely. Problem is, we never really broach the topic of who that "someone else" could be.

ESPN decided to do some of that work for us today.

***

Now, we can take this all with a grain of salt. Obviously Hopkins is number one on the list, and that's clearly spelled out in the insider piece on ESPN. Syracuse.com shares some additional information about the post, including the No. 2 choice: VCU head coach Shaka Smart.

That sounds grand, doesn't it? But I guess I'm curious if it's even realistic. After all, Smart's turned down pro and college jobs across the country, including UCLA -- widely considered one of the sport's pillars of excellence (lack of recent titles aside). So why, if faced with the opportunity to coach the Syracuse Orange, would Smart change his tune?

I know it's just a hypothetical article -- the type that ESPN typically runs all week to perpetuate its own news cycle. You can read about how that sausage is made in this excellent piece from Deadspin. But it still pushes us to answer a VERY big question:

Without Jim Boeheim, is Syracuse a premier job?

The worst part? We don't have an answer here either. Boeheim has been at SU for so long that it's impossible to separate the basketball team from him, and even after he's gone -- will he really be all that far from what goes on there? Since 1976, James Arthur IS Syracuse basketball. When he leaves, the raucous, stuffed-to-the-gills Dome will (hopefully) stay standing. Otto's planning on sticking around, last I checked. The history of program success holds up (to most). So we have to remain a job of considerable stature, right?

Well, maybe... We're all diehard fans here. This is obvious. But there are some factors that could prevent the Orange from retaining their status in the college hoops hierarchy long-term. Some of these include:

1. Identity: Will the program be able to retain its brand without its de facto figurehead?

2. How does the school continue to be supported by an active fan base in a part of the country that sees a migration away from the region?

3. How can it sustain a new fan base of in-person attendees when the large majority of alums leave the region immediately following graduation?

4. ACC: If Syracuse can't find itself among a stacked league's top four nearly every year, will the "also-ran" misperception become a reality?

5. Also, ACC: Will extended time away from a Northeast-focused basketball league (specifically: NYC, Philly, D.C.) begin to impact traditional recruiting grounds in a negative way?

... I could go on. And no, this isn't to unnecessarily stoke a fire within the fan base. It's just to raise a question of what might be doable once Boeheim leaves (if Hopkins opts to take his talents elsewhere). And then compare that to what one of the likely candidates (Smart) could find appealing/not appealing about the job. I'm not inside anyone's head, so I don't know for sure -- no one does. But these questions will be based in reality at some point, and I'd rather have talked through them internally beforehand.

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All of that said, I think my money is on Adrian Autry if Hop goes. He's an experienced coach (much more so than McNamara), very much wants to be here and of course, understands the history and success of this program having played here himself.

But what about you? Who's your pick if Hopkins leaves? Let's talk it out in the comments. There's no real right answer here, and won't be for some time. So remember, this is ALL hypothetical.

(#NTF comment in 5, 4, 3, 2...)

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