The drive from Lyons, New York to nearby Syracuse, New York only takes one hour. But for Syracuse University head basketball coach Jim Boeheim the drive is the equivalent to going right around the corner. Boeheim was born in Lyons and he has been a lifer in Central New York. Boeheim’s journey at Syracuse began in 1962 when he was a walk-on to the school’s basketball team. After graduating from Syracuse in 1966, Boeheim would return to the school in 1969 as an assistant coach of the basketball team. Boeheim would be an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse until he was named as the head basketball coach in 1976.
Under Boeheim, the Syracuse Orange would become a national power in college basketball. And when the Big East Conference was created in 1979, Syracuse would develop historic rivalries there with the Georgetown Hoyas and St. John’s Red Storm that would define the conference and college basketball as a whole. As an assistant and later as a head coach at Syracuse, Boeheim would be a part of five Final Four teams and the school’s only national championship team in basketball in 2003. Boeheim has sent numerous players to the NBA highlighted by power forward Derrick Coleman who was the first overall pick of the 1990 NBA Draft and current New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony who was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 Final Four. But even Boeheim cannot escape the dark clouds that surround college athletics.
Recently Syracuse basketball was hit hard with sanctions by the NCAA. The NCAA stripped Boeheim of 108 wins while also reducing Syracuse’s basketball scholarships over the next few years due to a lack of institutional control mainly surrounding the team’s academics. Syracuse had already self-imposed a ban this year for any postseason tournament, but it wasn’t enough for them to avoid the dreaded NCAA hammer. Syracuse had vowed to appeal the NCAA’s sanctions and recently at a school function, Boeheim stated that he “wasn’t going anywhere”. But Boeheim got served with a harsh dose of reality as indeed he isn’t bigger than Syracuse.
Last week Boeheim announced that he will retire in three years in a decision that more than likely wasn’t solely his. Along with Boeheim, Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross is resigning and he will be taking another position within the university which smells of the school desperately seeking to start fresh.
You can’t think about Syracuse basketball and not think about Boeheim as he is the blue and orange which is evident by the Orange’s basketball court at the Carrier Dome being named after him. Boeheim has done many tremendous things for Syracuse, but at the end of the day he is simply an employee that must answer to someone who signs the paycheck that he still waits in line to cash. When Syracuse announced its move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2011, Boeheim was publicly critical of it as he loved his beloved conference. But after being spoken to about it by Gross, Boeheim would quickly sing a new tune and welcome a new journey down to Tobacco Road. And just like Boeheim still intended to be at Syracuse until he was ready to walk away, the decision was not his either.
Where there’s smoke, there is fire and just like Syracuse tried to distance themselves from longtime assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine a few years ago amid sexual abuse allegations, the only fall guys left this time were Gross and Boeheim.
Boeheim isn’t leaving Syracuse immediately as his farewell tour will take place for three years which gives the university ample time to find a successor to the Hall of Fame basketball coach if they’ve cooled on Syracuse assistant basketball coach Mike Hopkins who was dubbed as their head coach in-waiting a few years ago. Syracuse will attempt to smooth out all of the rough spots between now and then with Boeheim. And Boeheim can expect to see his fair share of well wishers come out of the wood works to bid farewell to him that were once rivals such as former Georgetown head basketball coach John Thompson and former Connecticut head basketball coach Jim Calhoun whom Boeheim had fierce battles with on the hardwood and recruiting against to current rivals such as Duke head basketball coach Mike Kryzewski who Boeheim has served under as an assistant head basketball coach on Team USA and current Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino who was a member of Boeheim’s first staff at Syracuse.
The end is rarely that pretty for head coaches as they just like regular employees are typically unable to write their final chapter. Boeheim has done more good than he has bad, but his mistakes have expedited his retirement. And the jury will still be out on how Boeheim will be remembered.