Syracuse Orange basketball fans are plenty used to questions around Jim Boeheim’s eventual retirement.
For a long time, we’d assumed Mike Hopkins would take over. Then SU put a date on it and named Hopkins the coach-in-waiting. Hopkins ended up leaving for Washington, and then Syracuse extended Boeheim.
Now it feels like Jim’s probably going to be here forever.
John Feinstein wrote about Hopkins’s new role at UW and how it’s been a successful start for him and the Huskies this season, however, in the context of him moving on from his long-time stay with the Orange basketball program.
It’s worth a read. But the part you’re very much focused on (and have probably seen already) is here:
“I wanted to create something on my own,” (Hopkins) said. “I can do that here.”
Boeheim is more blunt. “He’s not coming back,” (Boheim) said. “He shouldn’t come back. He’s got a great job in a great league. He’s where he belongs.”
For me, that doesn’t offer an encouraging outlook around Hopkins ever returning. Granted, it’s early in his time at Washington and he’s obviously not going to admit he’s leaving at some point. But... Jim isn’t necessarily giving us much hope here and if anything, is almost telling him to stay away. For those who still had some hope that the long-time assistant would be back the second Boeheim hung up his jacket (rather than tossing it on Sunday), this paints a weird picture of the future of SU hoops.
It’s not that we couldn’t picture a future without Hopkins. It’s just that Boeheim paints a picture that seems to only include the Hall-of-Famer on the sidelines. And doesn’t really leave room for anyone else to eventually take over the reins.
Think about it. When juxtaposed with Hopkins’s comments about creating something for himself, Boeheim’s own account almost reads as an affirmation. “No, you can’t build something for yourself here, so you shouldn’t come back.” And if that’s true of Hopkins, who was a huge part of Boeheim’s legacy at Syracuse, wouldn’t it be true of pretty much any subsequent coach?
Jim always seemed like someone that would just know when he’s done, but also leave on his own terms. No farewell tour. No serious calls for his ouster from the fan base or boosters. He’d hopefully leave a champion, or at least with a season befitting of his historic career. When his son, Buddy, committed to Syracuse for the class of 2018, it seemed like a perfect fit that he’d coach through his playing career and then call it a day. Coaching Buddy for four or five years would take him as far as the end of the 2022-23 season at latest.
But now, I’m not so sure Jim leaves unless he’s physically unable to do the job anymore.
If that’s the case, how do you prepare for “that day” whenever it happens to come? (and before anyone comments about Gerry McNamara taking over... let’s all calm down)
That’s where things get decidedly “weird” for Syracuse. Assuming there is no official end date, how does SU go about preparing for what’s next when we don’t know when that happens? How do we go about the idea of getting a next coach when the specter of what’s Jim’s accomplished looms large?
None of this is to suggest we start pushing Jim out. Or that he should leave before he’s ready. Jim Boeheim IS Syracuse basketball in many ways, and that’s something this program will never be able to avoid (nor should it). His name’s on the court, after all.
But Hopkins’s departure and what looks like the unlikelihood of his return is going to leave us looking for a new coach at some point, even if it’s 10 years from now. Boeheim’s never going to be able to make it easier for someone to replace him one day. We just have to be prepared for the long-term effects of that.