Supposedly, a picture says 1,000 words. This picture of Jim Boeheim back at the helm of Syracuse Orange basketball practice certainly says everything you need to know.
Boeheim looks like he hasn't skipped a beat. Every player either looks to him or acts accordingly because of him. And Mike Hopkins stares into the middle distance wondering what in the hell he's done with his life.
Poor Hop. In some ways, his stint as interim coach was doomed before it began. Instead of getting a chance to prepare as much as possible, news of Boeheim's appeal forced the suspension to begin weeks before it was supposed to, thrusting Hopkins into the limelight. He didn't exactly pick a great year for it as the depleted roster stumbled out on non-conference play towards what appears as of now to be an NIT berth. The schedule wasn't a murderer's row but it certainly could have been kinder in terms of road games and ranked opponents.
All of which is not to excuse the fact that the Syracuse basketball team looked pretty dreadful for much of Hopkins' tenure as interim coach. The team went 4-5 under his watch but it didn't even really feel that good. It is absolutely no surprise to see some call Hopkins' stint a failure and for some fans to question whether or not the longtime assistant truly is the right person to take over for Jim Boeheim in a few years.
While there are valid concerns about where Head Coach Mike Hopkins is at right now, that doesn't mean that Head Coach Mike Hopkins Three Years From Now is the same person. Or that that version of Coach Hop won't be better for this rough stint. In fact, that's exactly what I'm taking away from the whole saga.
Think about what a rare opportunity Mike Hopkins just got. He got a taste of what it's like to the head coach of a major college basketball program for a sizable amount of time. Just enough to see what goes into it. Just enough to see how much more in entails than being an assistant on the bench. How much more pressure there is and how much minutia you have to worry about.
Mike Hopkins basically just got the chance to fail so that he may succeed later. Doesn't that sum up the college experience to an extent?
Jim Boeheim doesn't seem worried. He's made no bones about the fact that this was his team even when he was hanging out with Jay Bilas instead of coaching them. Hopkins was less a head coach running his own team full of his own players and more a caretaker managing someone else's shop while they were on vacation. There are things that Jim Boeheim intuitively knows after 40+ years that a guy who has never been a head coach before doesn't, regardless of who it is and what he's done.
The players don't seem phased. They still love Hop and they realize it's on them to actually put the ball in the basket. The head coach can only do so much, no matter who it is.
Mark Coyle doesn't seem phased either. The Syracuse AD who was very coy and quiet during the Scott Shafer analysis period was quick to say the interim run had no effect on Coach Hopkins' long-term employment and role as Boeheim's successor. He understands it was a "unique situation."
Some fans are certainly concerned but when aren't fans concerned? Have you listened to Syracuse sports talk radio at any point during the last 30 years? Someone calls in saying Boeheim should be fired almost every day. Fans have the luxury of worrying about the short term too often. Sometimes it's valid and other times it's not. This is one of those times.
Did some of Mike Hopkins' flaws show in 9 games? No question. But if you say you're "out" on him based on that, you are a dope. Period.— Brent Axe (@BrentAxeMedia) January 6, 2016
I'm sure when Coach Hop takes over for good, a lot of people are going to bring up this stint as a reminder that he has a lot to prove and isn't quite the sure thing we'd assumed he was. That's part of the deal if you're going to be the guy in charge and I'm sure Hop knows it. But I'm 100% positive he also learned a ton in the last few weeks and will remember so many things he did and didn't do and how he can do them better next time.
This isn't akin to Scott Shafer, who accumulated too many losses too soon and left SU with too many concerns of getting better. This is about a guy given the opportunity to learn on the job before he's actually given the job. It was his junior year internship, basically. In a few years he'll be the one in charge and I'm willing to bet the experience, unfortunate as it may have been, will serve him well.