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Replacing a Legend: Who might Syracuse turn to after Boeheim?

What if today's top college basketball programs had to replace a legendary coach? Where would they turn? Over the next few weeks, analyst Dan McDonald will take a look at who could be next in line for the nation's top programs when they look to replace legends. This week, a look at how Syracuse could try to replace Jim Boeheim.

MORE IN THE SERIES: Who might Duke turn to after Coach K era? | UNC after the Roy Williams era?

2020 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2021 Rankings: Rivals150 | Position

2022 Rankings: Top 75


THE LIST (in alphabetical order) 

Adrian Autry, Syracuse associate head coach

Adrian Autry
Adrian Autry (AP Images)

It’s likely that Syracuse will strongly consider keeping this job in the family when the time comes for a change. Not many have been closer to the Syracuse family and what Jim Boeheim has built with the Orange program than “Red” Autry. He was a four-year standout in the early 1990s and finished his career with an average of 12.7 points per game, including 16.7 points per game as a senior. Since then, he’s become a highly respected assistant coach, starting with his work at Virginia Tech and now back at Syracuse since 2011. He holds associate head coach tag.



Ed Cooley, Providence head coach

Ed Cooley
Ed Cooley (AP Images)

If Syracuse decides to go outside the family, there might not be a better realistic candidate than Cooley. He’s built up Providence into a perennial contender in the Big East and always recruits at a high level in the Northeast, which would make this an easy transition for Cooley. The 50-year old holds a 181-122 career record in nine seasons with the Friars and previously had a 92-69 record at Fairfield, where he rebuilt the program.


Mike Hopkins, Washington head coach

Mike Hopkins
Mike Hopkins (AP Images)

Like Autry, Hopkins played at Syracuse in the early '90s for Boeheim. Hopkins wasn’t quite the player Autry was for the Orange, but he still had a successful career. Hopkins quickly worked his way up the coaching ranks under Boeheim and became a hot coaching candidate for several years before accepting the Washington job in 2017. Hopkins is 63-39 in three seasons with the Huskies with one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where they reached the second round.

Hopkins is a proven recruiter going back to his time at Syracuse, where he was instrumental in landing several top players and has shown he can do the same as a head coach by landing five-stars Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels in the 2019 class. Unfortunately for Hopkins, that team fizzled to a last-place finish in the Pac-12 with his prized freshmen. Of the Syracuse guys, he’s the only one with head coaching experience, but that could also make him the toughest to lure to the Syracuse campus.


Gerry McNamara, Syracuse assistant coach

USA Today
USA Today (USA Today)

McNamara is the youngest on this list, but he has quickly become a highly respected assistant coach after a terrific career playing for Syracuse, which included a national championship in 2003. Boeheim wasted little time moving McNamara up from the support staff to an assistant coach spot when he came back to the program, which shows the trust he has in his former star player both as a coach and on the recruiting trail.


Nate Oats, Alabama head coach

Nate Oats
Nate Oats (AP Images)

Oats made the move south from Buffalo to Tuscaloosa last year, but the work he did while in western New York should certainly have the attention of the Syracuse administration. Oats recruited at a really high level while at Buffalo and he’s continued to do so for the Crimson Tide. A lot of his recent recruiting success has come with Canadian prospects, which would make for a seamless transition.

Oats pushes his teams to play at one of the faster paces of any team in the country with a lot of freedom, which is always attractive to recruits. His 96-43 record in four seasons at Buffalo includes three trips to the NCAA Tournament and two trips to the round of 32. After a 16-15 record in his first season in Tuscaloosa, Oats has his program poised to compete for one of the top spots in the SEC this season.


Kevin Willard, Seton Hall head coach

Kevin Willard
Kevin Willard (AP Images)

It took Willard a few years to get the Pirates program up and running in the Big East, but Seton Hall has become one of the more consistent programs in the conference over the last half of the decade. Willard is coming off four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and would have five had the tournament not been canceled this year.

Willard is a New York native from Long Island. On the recruiting trail, he’s done a good job of identifying players that fit his style and develops them to the point that they outplay their rankings. He’s also done a pretty good job on the transfer market.

He’s not as tied into the Syracuse family as Autry, Hopkins and McNamara, but his father, Ralph Willard, worked for Boeheim during the 1986-87 season. He’s also worked for Rick Pitino, both with the Boston Celtics and at Louisville. Pitino was a former Boeheim assistant as well.


The choice 

I really like all these candidates for this spot. If we operate under the assumption that all these candidates would accept if offered the job, it would come down to Cooley or Oats for me. I’d probably lean toward Oats because he’s had a little more success in the NCAA Tournament, and did so at Buffalo. He also has recruited at a higher level. In just his first season at Alabama, Oats landed four, four-star prospects, along with Yale grad-transfer Jordan Bruner, one of the top transfers of this cycle.

Oats checks all the boxes I’d look for in a coach at Syracuse. He would keep Syracuse in the mix for top 100 prospects all over the country, but especially in the footprint the Orange have been most successful. I also think he would mix in some five-star prospects, too. As a coach, his playing style would be very fan-friendly and attractive to recruits. He would be a home run hire for Syracuse if the administration decides to go outside the family.