Washington Media Relations

Cohen has plenty to say about Hopkins

Is Jennifer Cohen fired up about hiring Mike Hopkins? In a word, yes. The Washington Athletic Director announced Hopkins as the Huskies' new Men's Basketball Coach Sunday, but didn't talk to the media until Wednesday about the hire. And there was a lot to say. Here's more from Cohen about the hire and how she went about targeting Hopkins to lead the UW Hoops program moving forward.

On keeping the 2017 recruiting class together

“We made this decision knowing that recruiting was going to be an issue and that recruiting class was going to be an issue, but we didn’t make this decision for the short term, obviously.”

On the homework she did in targeting the next UW Men's Basketball coach

“When I took the job, I realized we really needed to get immersed into what was really going on within this program. This was all new for me, I hadn’t managed basketball before. And just to get a better understanding of what was happening here. And also just to educate ourselves on what are the issues in college basketball - like one-and-dones. How are others dealing with that? What’s Arizona doing? What’s Oregon doing? What’s UCLA doing? What are some of those schools doing that’s a little bit different than us? What can we learn? So that’s kind of where it started. What can we do to help make this program better? 

“But through the whole process you’re building your network. I’ve been in college athletics for over 20 years, so I developed a lot of contacts and a lot of networks. Eventually I started dreaming about what a profile of a head coach would look like if we didn’t have coach Romar here. And that was not just because we were preparing that we may let him go. That was also, what if he left? And that’s just work that you need to do. 

“It included conversations with other coaches. It included conversations with other administrators. It included conversations with other people in consulting and included former players, former athletes - not just in this program but in others. It was a comprehensive, ongoing experience.”

What about her homework re: the Syracuse sanctions?

“I had conversations with an administrator that was working there at the time. And we had all the documentation.”

Did the success of the football program hasten your decision?

“To make a change? My issue was, I don’t look at where football was but my issue was I felt like when we did the evaluation of the program it wasn’t just the wins and losses. I saw other gaps in the foundation of the program that are things that are really important to how we want to move forward as a department. I saw gaps in identity, I saw gaps in some culture stuff. I didn’t feel like we really knew where we were going and I wanted to see a more strategic plan around that. There’s certainly the fact that seeing how football has strategically done it, getting the opportunity to work with somebody as good as Chris Petersen it helps kind of ignite that in you. Ultimately it just came down to the fact that we believe we should be better and I felt like we ran out of time and I didn’t have the confidence that we were going to be able to get there anymore with the staff that we had here. That’s all it was. As I told Lorenzo (Romar), I didn’t feel any pressure. If anything it would have been a much easier decision to keep him. It was more my own core feeling about what we stand for here and I wanted to see a change.”

Did you recognize similarities between Hopkins and Petersen?

“Right away. We all believe in the same thing. He’s absolutely right: if you don’t have the values set, if you don’t stay true and consistent in that, don’t compromise. Don’t shortcut. Do the hard work. And that is absolutely something he believes in, I believe in. That’s something we teach within our entire athletic department. That is actually who we are. I felt it right away. I was telling some of the Syracuse guys, he’s the kind of guy within five minutes you feel like you’ve known him 20 years. The alignment of what he believes in and how he goes about his work and how everybody describes him that way too? Yeah, super fired up about it.”

What convinced you that he was the right guy despite Syracuse having been the object of a major NCAA investigation during his time there?

“Because of his character, because of the person that he was and because of the impeccable record that he has. When you call people that know him, the first word that comes out of their mouth is ‘integrity’. It’s interesting, and I’m not going to give you any examples but I can tell you within the last three days, I have seen multiple examples of character in him, doing things the right way. He’s already demonstrating that that’s who he is. His reputation is crazy-good, and I didn’t have any issues with that. The NCAA stuff is serious. You don’t want to have a coach that thinks that is the culture. He’s the complete opposite of that.”

So it doesn’t bring up a red flag to see someone of such apparent high integrity in the middle of a big scandal like that?

“Absolutely not. He has a lot of loyalty to his school. I think he said something about when I go somewhere I stay. I think that speaks to some of the reasons why he was there and why he was happy there. He loved his university, had a great experience there. He met Tricia there. But I had absolutely no issues.”

Loyalty was a big part of this, then?

“Huge. And plus, you’re walking away from a five-year deal at Syracuse. You’re not going to walk away from that unless you’re dedicating a lot of effort and time into this new opportunity. It was very obvious to us that he wanted to be here. That’s big, and this school deserves a coach that wants to be here and sees this place as a destination. The hunger that he has, he is not going to rest until we’re great, and that’s the awesome part of his personality.”

It’s clear now you didn’t limit yourself to just looking at coaches with prior head coaching experience

“I think it’s the four things we were looking for. It didn’t matter if it was a head coach or not. It was making sure somebody had coaching credentials you felt confident in and also had coaching credentials where they knew how to compete and win championships. It was the combination of those things, but also the builder mentality. Also the integrity and values piece, also the fact that he wanted to be here…I wanted somebody that had all those things. Our profile was, we were open to assistant coaches. He was very different than any other assistant coach. NBA coaches that maybe had collegiate experience, and head coaches. But there were all these other things that we were looking for. That’s what drives decisions, not just looking at a resume and being caught up in, this person’s done this, this person…it’s the collective resume.”

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