Men's Basketball

Mike Hopkins leaves behind a shocked Syracuse community by joining Washington

Daily Orange File Photo

Mike Hopkins stunned many by leaving Syracuse after 22 years as an assistant coach to take a head coaching job at Washington.

Mike Hopkins said he had always wanted to be a head coach. Now he’s fulfilled that goal a year earlier than he would have at Syracuse.

The Orange’s former head coach-designate left SU, the school he played at for four years and coached at for 22, to become Washington’s head coach. Instead of serving as Jim Boeheim’s heir for another season before taking over in 2018-19, he shocked the Syracuse community on Sunday by becoming the one tasked with turning around the Huskies.

“I can’t express enough thanks to Coach Boeheim for so many years of mentorship and guidance,” Hopkins said in a UW press release. “The timing is right for me and my family to make this move.”

The right timing for Hopkins became precarious timing for the Orange. On March 18, 2015, Chancellor Kent Syverud announced Boeheim planned to retire after the 2017-18 season. On June 25, 2015, Syverud announced Hopkins would succeed Boeheim as SU’s head coach. Hopkins leaving for Washington nullified those plans and Boeheim subsequently signed a contract extension, reportedly through 2021-22.

Hopkins had been linked to other head coaching jobs prior to that, including fellow Pac-12 opportunities with Southern California (2013) and Oregon State (2014). But with just a year left until the chance to take over the Orange, his move to Washington came as a surprise.

“I just think it was a sudden thing,” said Gary McKnight, who coached Hopkins at Mater Dei (California) High School. “… I think he was looking for the right situation.”

The program awaiting Hopkins at Washington is one in need of a fresh slate. The Huskies just finished its season with 13 straight losses, a 9-22 record and went 2-16 in the conference. UW hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011.

Washington’s roster this past season featured freshman Markelle Fultz, widely projected as the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Its 2017 recruiting class included Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 ranked player in the country according to ESPN. But he may decommit after the Huskies fired head coach Lorenzo Romar on Wednesday.

In comes Hopkins, who received the backing of UW’s administration with a six-year contract, according to ESPN. He’s back on the west coast, significantly closer to where he grew up. Washington bolsters its well-regarded athletic program with Hopkins, who has plenty of tools at his disposal for a successful rebuild.

“When I first started coaching, my goal wasn’t to be the head coach at Syracuse,” Hopkins told The Daily Orange in a 2015 profile. “My goal was to be the best coach on the planet. I just wanted to be the best.”

What he leaves behind is a program that adored Hopkins enough to entrust its future, until Sunday, in him. He’s played a major role in recruiting since 2000, worked closely with SU’s bigs since 2011 and helped develop numerous centers like future NBA players Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas.

Hopkins’ fingerprints are all over the Orange. And on the day he departed from SU, the community he left behind responded.

“He’s been everything for Tyler, really,” Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon’s father, Tim, said.

“I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if it wasn’t for (Hopkins),” SU graduate assistant Katie Kolinski wrote in an Instagram post.

“Washington got a steal,” former Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams tweeted.

While Boeheim served an NCAA-mandated nine-game suspension last season, Hopkins stepped in as the Orange’s interim head coach. At the time, his 4-5 record provided a small glimpse into SU’s planned future.

Now it’ll go down as the only glimpse.

“Mike received a great opportunity,” Boeheim said in a statement, “and we thank him and wish him the best.”

— Senior Staff Writer Connor Grossman and Asst. Sports Editor Sam Fortier contributed reporting to this story.

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