Commentary: UW’s Cohen shows decisiveness, leadership in face of difficult questions

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I want to give major praise to Huskies athletic director Jen Cohen. Cohen’s actions this week were thoughtful, quick, decisive – and showed every bit of the leadership you want in an AD.

You might not agree with firing Lorenzo Romar or hiring Mike Hopkins, but you have to respect Cohen’s handling of her first major decisions on Montlake. And while her legacy will be shaped in part by Hopkins success or failure, for now, we can all agree that these moves showed no hesitation and an ability to get things done.

And before you write the angry emails or letters, put yourself in her shoes: A lifelong Husky fan who bleeds Purple and Gold, and her first big move is cutting ties with one of the most beloved Husky coaches of all time? You think it was easy?

I mean, Cohen essentially fired a family member. A loyal, valued, respected family member. And then found a replacement in four-days time to prevent the program from being in limbo too long. That takes guts. And while I have no idea whether it was the right choice to sacrifice huge potential next season for what she believes to be a more long-term view for the men’s basketball program, I do applaud her preparation, and I do applaud her action.

Meanwhile, many will ask: Why would Mike Hopkins, the longtime coach-in-waiting at Syracuse, spurn his alma mater to be the head coach anywhere else?

We got one answer earlier tonight, when just hours after Hopkins was named UW head coach, Jim Boeheim’s contract was extended at Syracuse.

Remember, this whole arrangement of Boeheim stepping down and Hopkins taking over after next season came on the heels of a multi-year NCAA investigation that revealed multiple violations, from academic misconduct, to extra benefits, and impermissible booster activity. It also came under the watch of an athletic director (Mark Coyle) who’s not even at Syracuse anymore. It’s clear Boeheim never wanted to step down. That could’ve gotten really awkward next season.

So if I’m Hopkins, did I want to be the guy replacing a Hall of Fame coach, who didn’t want to retire... Did I want to be a coach who wasn’t hand-selected by the current athletic director... and a coach who didn’t exactly have the confidence of the fanbase after going 4-and-5 as an interim head coach last season on a team that reached the Final Four?

That’s not exactly job security. Plus, I remember the last time we had a coach-in-waiting in Seattle (Mora after Holmgren) – and that didn’t work out so well either.

At UW, Hopkins gets to be the first major hire of a new athletic director whose reputation is now linked to him – and with it, her ultimate loyalty to have patience with him and see things through. At UW, Hopkins gets to return to the West Coast, and bring with him a penchant for recruiting well nationally. And at UW, Hopkins gets to build the program how he deems fit, without following a legendary coach who’s won a national title and been to six Final Fours.

So, after a whirlwind week, we thank Lorenzo Romar, we praise Jen Cohen, and we welcome Mike Hopkins. Will it all work out? Check back with us in a few years time.

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