Successor Series: Who takes over for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse?
The SI.com Successor Series will examine who might replace some of the bigger names in college basketball when they inevitably leave their posts. It is intended as pure speculation -- fodder for discussion in the long hoops offseason. That said: Down the line, we reserve the right to claim we knew it all along.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
NCAA titles: One (2003)
Since 1962, there have been only three years in which Jim Boeheim wasn't involved with Syracuse basketball. He was a player at the school and graduated in 1966, and then, after toiling professionally in the American Basketball League, returned as an assistant in 1969 before taking over as head coach in 1976. He will turn 70 this November and has won 948 games in his 38 seasons at the helm, but he almost certainly won't go anywhere before earns his 1,000th win at the program.
Aside from Boeheim's good friend Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, there may be no coach as weaved into every fiber of a program and a school like Syracuse's coach. Succeeding him, then, means operating in a shadow the size of the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse appears to have its man in mind already – assistant Mike Hopkins has been deemed coach-in-waiting. Any ascension plan at this point looks like Hopkins-or-bust, really. But on the off-chance that plan falls apart, who might be willing to assume the burden of keeping the Orange among the nation's elite?
If Boeheim left tomorrow
Mike Hopkins, Syracuse assistant/head coach-in-waiting. Hopkins already has traversed the initial footprints of the Boeheim track: He played for Syracuse from 1989-93 and has sat on the bench beside Boeheim as an assistant since 1996. It seems as automatic as a flip of a switch, gauging by comments athletic director Daryl Gross made to Syracuse.com in May. “You get to a point where you say, 'I have to be fair to you, Mike. If there is a great opportunity that you see, I understand. Just make sure you don’t have a huge buyout, because when it comes available, we are coming to get you (laughs),'” Gross told the site. “That’s about all you can say. When you recognize him as a top assistant, when you’ve insured him that he is the head-coach-in-waiting, what more can you do, right?” That's a pretty solid endorsement and just about ends the discussion at the surface level. Still, Hopkins has been linked to the USC, Boston College and Oregon State jobs to one degree or another the past two offseasons. Clearly he is hankering for his own gig, if there's no end in sight for Boeheim. So the question would be: Could failure at a different spot cost him his chance with his alma mater? And in that case, would Gross change his tune and seek out a more established, bigger-name leader?
If Boeheim left tomorrow (non-Hopkins division)
Jay Wright, Villanova head coach. The Philadelphia-area native has what is essentially his hometown job right now and just came off 20- and 29-win seasons after a 13-19 dip in 2011-12. He's heading into Year 14 at Villanova and seems comfortable. If he left, it presumably would be a search for a bigger stage in the ACC with more resources. Syracuse spent nearly $13.8 million on men's hoops in fiscal year 2012-13, per U.S. Department of Education figures, while Villanova spent nearly $7.4 million.
Shaka Smart, VCU head coach. When Gross was a senior associate athletic director at USC in 2004, he played a central role in the effort to lure Rick Majerus to coach the Trojans (Majerus backed out of the job five days after being hired, citing health concerns). His first football head coaching hire at Syracuse – then-Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson – was also fairly splashy, though he followed it with two lower-key appointments in Doug Marrone, who was the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator and Scott Shafer, who was promoted from within when Marrone left to coach the Buffalo Bills. The point being: Gross has at least some inclination toward the big name, and his reflex with a massive basketball hire might be to go with an impact candidate. Smart would qualify. Whether he'd want to follow Boeheim or view Syracuse as the right landing spot after rejecting overtures from the likes of N.C. State, Illinois and Marquette in recent years is another story.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati head coach. The 42-year-old Cronin is a Cincinnati native and his entire coaching career – assistant stops at Cincinnati and Louisville, then a stint as Murray State's head coach before returning to lead the Bearcats – has revolved around the area. It is not an obvious fit ... but few candidates outside of Hopkins are. Cronin has won 26, 26, 22 and 27 games, respectively, his last four years at Cincinnati. His roster last year featured four players from the New York-New Jersey area. If he brought top Bearcats assistant Darren Savino along, the pipeline to East Coast talent would remain open. One might imagine Syracuse looking elsewhere first. But a tough-minded coach who wins, who can recruit the East and who is approachable would not be a consolation prize.
Long shots and long-range plans
Adrian Autry, Syracuse assistant. The guard who started 116 of 121 games for Syracuse during a four-year career that ended in 1994 only joined the coaching staff before the 2011-12 season. He was key in recruiting one-and-done point guard Tyler Ennis, and ex-Orange forward Jerami Grant raved about how Autry helped build his game over his two seasons. From the outside, it would appear Autry needs more seasoning before assuming the task of replacing Boeheim. But it could be a different story inside the walls of the athletic department, if Hopkins somehow wasn't the answer.
Bobby Hurley, Buffalo head coach. It is a long, long, long way from a 19-win head coaching debut at Buffalo in 2013-14 to being the head coach at Syracuse. (Hence the longshot section.) But Hurley would have the name recognition – he's a former national champion at Duke, his father Bob is a Hall of Famer who has won more than 1,000 games coaching famed St. Anthony High School in New Jersey – and familiarity with the local terrain. Plus, if he's getting a call down the line, he'd presumably have amassed the success to back his candidacy.
Dave Paulsen, Bucknell head coach. Before a 16-14 dip last season, Paulsen had led the Bison to three straight postseason appearances, including two NCAA tournaments. He's familiar with the local territory, having coached at LeMoyne College (enrollment 3,500) in Syracuse, and then remaining on the East Coast and in New England with gigs at Williams College and Bucknell.
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech head coach. Williams won 22 games or more in his first five seasons at Marquette and reached the Elite Eight in 2013, then somewhat shockingly jumped to Virginia Tech this offseason. Such a recent move relegates him to the long-range category for the moment, but should Williams win big in Blacksburg, of all places, and should the Hopkins option fall through, it might be an intriguing intra-ACC hire.