It didn’t take long for the University of Washington to find a new men’s basketball team. And while 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard said he is not in love with Sunday’s hiring of Mike Hopkins, he does see similarities to UW’s last major sports hire – football coach Chris Petersen.
“Try-hard, hyper-intense guy,” Huard said Monday. “And everything I heard about him, and even checking in with Jen Cohen the AD, it felt like Chris Petersen.”
Hopkins, 47, reportedly signed a six-year deal to become the Huskies’ new coach, replacing Lorenzo Romar, who was fired Thursday after leading the team for the last 15 years. Huard, a former Huskies football player, had doubted whether UW could afford – literally – to fire Romar, despite his team’s six-year NCAA tournament drought and disastrous 2016-17 season. Huard said Hopkins’ deal is back-loaded, starting at about $1.8 million and likely including escalators and incentives as the years go on.
After serving as an assistant under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse since 1995, Hopkins has been the coach-in-waiting for the Orange, expecting to take over for his alma mater after the 2017-18 season. However, shortly after UW Director of Athletics Jennifer Cohen announced Hopkins’ hiring Sunday morning, Boeheim signed an extension.
Hopkins was Cohen’s first major hire since being appointed the school’s athletic director last year. It was Scott Woodward who convinced Petersen to leave an uber-successful Boise State football program in 2013 to replace then-coach Steve Sarkisian. Petersen helped bring an up-and-coming Huskies football program to the College Football Playoff last season.
Huard said he spoke with Cohen a bit throughout the hiring process of Hopkins.
“She said it was fast; it was quite a frenzy; it was a whirlwind experience for her as agents and coaches and everybody comes out of the woodwork; and that this was a fairly desirable job,” Huard said. “I think the timing shows that, and four-and-a-half days later, she’s got her man.”
Huard also reached out to several national college basketball analysts, including Jay Bilas, Doug Gottlieb and Seth Greenberg. Huard came away with the following takeaways:
1. Each one of the analysts called Hopkins a good hire. “And the guys I reached out to would have told me ‘bad hire.’ They all said the same thing: this is a try-hard, over-worker, over-prepared, do-all-of-the-little-things guy at Syracuse. His wiring as a long-tenured assistant is intense and he is going to work his butt off.”
2. “I like the hire; I don’t know how anybody could love the hire.”
3. The Syracuse program is known for how little they practice but “What you don’t see is the 1-on-1. (Hopkins has) trained the bigs, he’s trained the guards. He is their 1-on-1 relational guy both on the court and in recruiting.”
4. Expect to see ex-Syracuse guard and assistant Jason Hart, who is currently an aide at USC, join UW’s staff. “I would expect to see him come in the fold with Will Conroy, who has been held onto here at the University of Washington. Jason, a guy that played at Syracuse, is at USC and is landing a ton of talent and would be an excellent fit.”
5. Hopkins’ mentor may very well be Boeheim, but Huard sees him more like Tim Grgurich, a long-time NBA assistant, including for George Karl’s Sonics. “Similar wired guy. Gergerich is just all-in. Details, super intense. This guy shares a lot of that personality and in many ways, Gergerich is his guru.”
6. The coach-in-waiting “absolutely” played a role in this.
7. Although Hopkins may seem like an East Coast guy, he’s from Southern California and was in the running for the USC job a few years ago. “I go through this whole exercise and it checks all the boxes.”
ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman also gave his take on Hopkins on “Brock and Salk” Monday, calling the long-time assistant the “highest-energy guy you will ever meet.”
“No disrespect to Lorenzo Romar, who is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met in doing this, but they are very different in their personalities,” Goodman said. “Lorenzo is low key, mellow. Mike Hopkins is not.
“You feel like you’ve known him forever once you meet him,” Goodman added. “He has that kind of infectious personality, which is why I think he’s been a tremendous recruiter at Syracuse, will continue to be a terrific recruiter at Washington. We don’t know how great a coach he is yet, but I’d be pretty sure he’s gonna be a good coach.”