Cash or confidence?
This was likely the question on the minds of most Huskies fans when it was announced that Washington men's basketball coach Mike Hopkins will return for another season.
Did UW athletic director Jen Cohen believe the man could revive the program after four straight disappointing seasons, or was his $6.3 million buyout simply too much to cover?
Hard to think we'll ever know the real answer, but now that it's done I can say the following: 1) I'm rooting for the ever-enthusiastic Hopkins to turn things around. 2) I'm awfully reluctant to think that he will.
I've said many times before, aside from transcribing long interviews, the worst thing about this job is criticizing people you like. I've come across every kind of personality in this line of work over the past 18 years or so, and am not sure I've met anyone as consistently as friendly, engaging and optimistic as Hopkins — regardless of the blows he's taken. I half wonder if the "Ted Lasso' creators studied him in detail while developing their protagonist.
You know the quote: "Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm." But Hop has kept his composure — at least publicly — throughout these past four years despite going 28-50 in Pac-12 play over that stretch. No snapping at reporters. No tirades. Nothing but accountability, as shown during his news conference after the Huskies' first-round loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament.
"I take full responsibility for this season. I felt like we had a chance to really make some steps, we had a lot of new guys — I couldn't get them to where we needed to be," Hopkins said Wednesday. "I'm really disappointed for our fans, our alumni, our ex players, our community in Seattle. It's not our standard. There's no one more disappointed than me."
Hopkins' job security seemed about 50-50 at that point. Washington had established a proud basketball tradition after the turn of the millennium, reaching six NCAA Tournaments in an eight-year span under coach Lorenzo Romar — doing so as a No. 1 seed in 2005. An eight-year Dancing drought ensued, which Hopkins ended in 2019 when the Huskies won the Pac-12 and their first-round NCAA tournament game vs. Utah State.
Unfortunately, with Hopkins' own recruits — which have included some of the most coveted in the country — Washington men's hoops has accomplished little since.
Stagnant offenses, massive rebounding disparities and other shortcomings produced two seasons in which UW finished either last or second-to-last in the conference, followed by a T-5th in 2022 and a T-8th last season, when the Dawgs went 16-16 overall and 8-12 in the Pac-12. Compounding this decline is that Washington is not among the top 60 in the national recruiting rankings, according to 247Sports.com's composite score.
This isn't lost on Cohen, who said in a statement that this past season fell short of expectations, adding "I am disappointed, Coach Hopkins and his staff are disappointed, and importantly, our passionate fans and supporters are disappointed."
One could make a case that injuries played a role in the Huskies' subpar season. Guard Noah Williams injured himself in the first game, but the Huskies lost the first three contests he played upon returning. Big man Franck Kepnang suffered a season-ending injury eight games into the season — but his averages of nine points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks weren't so overwhelming that one could play the :"if only he was healthy" game.
The Dawgs just didn't have the horses. Is there much reason to think they will under this regime?
True to his nature, Hopkins remained positive in a phone interview with Times Huskies hoops reporter Percy Allen on Sunday.
"My whole thing is always forward thinking," Hopkins said. "Look forward. Our focus is just getting better in the offseason. Evaluating the program has already been underway. The first part of the evaluation starts with me then going through every aspect of the program and then making the changes necessary."
What those changes are are to be determined. Whether those changes will make any difference are, too.
Hopkins may very well have been saved by his $6.3 million buyout. Either way, he's been given another chance.
The hope is that the good guy finds redemption. The reality is that that's unlikely.