Syracuse’s top assistant Mike Hopkins has long been a staple of the offseason rumor mill. When openings come up, Jim Boeheim’s right-hand man hears about them. According to a recent article by Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard, Hopkins usually gives them short shrift. He’s been in serious discussions with St. Bonaventure and Charlotte in the past, but ended up staying put.
When USC came calling at the end of last season, however, Hopkins sat up and listened. Hopkins grew up in southern California, and his parents still live there. The idea of coaching in front of the people who brought him into the world really appealed to Hopkins.
Family ties weren’t just pulling him westward, according to the Post-Standard article, however. Hopkins’ eldest son Griff was none too happy about the idea of moving.
Last winter, Griff Hopkins got off the school bus and raced inside his house to see his father.
“Dad,” said the sixth-grader, “the bus driver said that you’re going to take the USC job. That you’re leaving us. Is that true?”
Mike Hopkins, the long-time assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University, had been in discussions with officials at the University of Southern California about the school’s open head coaching position since mid-February.
And now, there was Griff Hopkins, fresh off the bus, asking his dad if he was leaving Syracuse.
“All he knows is Syracuse,” Hopkins said. Griff is the oldest of Mike and Trish Hopkins’ three children. “No question, if I would’ve left, my son might’ve stopped talking to me.”
Moving your kids from the only home they’ve ever known is a big deal, but it’s a decision parents in and out of the coaching profession make every day, with the overall good of the family in mind. Making his kid happy wasn’t the only thing weighing on Hopkins’ mind. He’s also the presumptive heir to Jim Boeheim, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Hopkins says he welcomes the challenge of following his mentor, and sustaining the success Boeheim has made commonplace in Syracuse.
In the end, USC chose Andy Enfield instead of Hopkins. Hopkins was somewhat disappointed, but realizes he’s in a great spot.
Hopkins is, so far the exception. Other top assistants have moved on recently, with Coach K sending Chris Collins off to take the helm at Northwestern, and Bill Self’s top lieutenant Joe Dooley sliding into Enfield’s vacated position at Florida Gulf Coast. Those situations are somewhat different, as Collins was surrounded by contenders for K’s eventual open chair, and Dooley was backing up a relatively young coach who likely isn’t going anywhere for a while yet. Boeheim is 68, and has mused on retirement on occasion recently.
It’s interesting to hear the stories behind the coaching carousel. We might as well get to know something about Mike Hopkins now. With Syracuse in the ACC and Boeheim possibly edging toward retirement away from his beloved friends in the media, Hopkins may just inherit one of the most coveted jobs in college hoops, sooner rather than later.