The complicated legacy of Jim Boeheim at Syracuse

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim never wanted a farewell tour of rocking chairs, monogrammed whiskey bottles, and tribute videos.

How it ended Wednesday was far more fitting: an awkward press conference following the loss to a midday buzzer-beater in Greensboro, North Carolina, the ACC tournament city that Boeheim had long mocked. All straight to the point, much like Boeheim himself.

A few hours later, the school issued a press release that did not include the word retirement. There were no quotes from Boeheim, just awkward platitudes from Suits who seemed to hope their flowery prose could transcend the uncomfortable realities: Jim Boeheim’s 47-year career as a head coach and nearly 60 years with Syracuse basketball as a player, assistant, and Head trainer did not end clean. It never would.

“In Jim’s case, he was never quite sure,” former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN. “If you’ve been doing something for as long as he’s been doing it, he’s never been quite sure.

“It was awkward the other day. Syracuse University and Syracuse Athletics and Syracuse Basketball, they should all be one when they make this announcement. The fact that there’s any ambiguity is wrong. It’s not right. I would hope that if that’s the case – – I’m not saying, but I would hope things get right quickly and are celebrated the way they should be.

“It shouldn’t be embarrassing. No way.”

Boeheim’s departure proved fitting for a complex character linearly focused on winning games at a school he loved unconditionally. He kept things simple but remained complicated.

There are parts of the man that are easy to explain. His loyalty to Syracuse is unsurpassed; He will be remembered as the figure who changed Syracuse University the most in the more than 150 years of its existence. He arrived on campus in 1962 during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, took over as head coach during the tenure of Gerald Ford in 1976, and left during the tenure of Joe Biden, perhaps the country’s only more recognizable Syracuse grad.

“His career is so unique,” said Krzyzewski. “Because it’s not just longevity at a school. It’s longevity in a community. Jim’s impact on this community, along with [his wife] July was immense. It’s an incredibly unique career. You can’t say someone is like that.”

Essentially from the ages of 18 to 78, Boeheim held out in Syracuse. He was the head coach on 35 of the school’s 41 NCAA tournament appearances, 1,015 of its wins, five Final Fours and the 2003 national championship. He helped usher in the glory days of the Great East and watched them pass.

He was a bespectacled constant, blinking through frames that ranged in style from the Coke bottle to the thin wire as the decades and generations rolled by. From Louie and Bouie to Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams and Buddy Boeheim. From the Manley Field House to the Carrier Dome to the JWA Wireless Dome, Boeheim’s mocking grin on the sidelines and his arms raised in disbelief at officers were as identifiable with the school as any dean, major, or campus landmark. Only the February forecast was more consistent.

“He’s everything to this school,” Tim Welsh, former Providence coach, Syracuse assistant and now ESPN analyst, said late Wednesday. “There will never be another term like this. The world today has changed too much.”

But the sudden nature of Boeheim’s departure hints at deeper complexities. Boeheim loved Syracuse unconditionally while maintaining an incessant scowl for much of his tenure, part of the paradox he perpetuated.

He attacked microphones, cursed liberally – “Not 10 f—ing games” – and turned press conference anxiety into an art form. (This dates back to a time when something going viral required an antibiotic.) He also countered that caustic side by relentlessly raising money for cancer research, occasionally showing a weakness by coaching and softly encouraging his sons Conversations with hundreds of cancer patients after beatings led to prostate cancer in 2001.

He developed a reputation for being aloof, but maintained open practices and locker rooms for decades. He often cursed his beat writers, but always called back. He was teased early on for not maximizing his talent, but eventually became part of three gold medal batons at the USA Basketball Olympiads.

Boeheim has evolved over the years like any coach, but has remained amazingly consistent – the same 2-3 zone for decades, the same training structure and the dichotomy of being a consummate consumer of the sport who hasn’t seen many opposing films.

He also never preached on servant leadership. He never tried to sell a self-help book. Boeheim was authentic long before it became a buzzword. He enjoyed coaching and winning basketball games at his alma mater. He put everything into it.

He took over at Syracuse in 1976 and capitalized on the then-open job at Rochester with a simple and linear game plan that defined him: Just win. Win and they will continue to have your back. Don’t get caught up in the fake preacher coach cartoon that has overtaken the sport.

“He never worried about the things that weren’t important,” said Sean Ford, the USA men’s basketball team director who has worked with Boeheim for decades. “He just worried about the things that affected winning and the game.” Boeheim’s ethos was summed up in a 2012 interview with the New York Post. He noted that he overtook against Harvard in his first game as head coach and led the Orange by a margin at halftime. He let the players play in the second half and Syracuse won by 20 points. Later in the interview, he distilled his coaching essence: “I’m a competitor. I like winning games. I like basketball and I like winning games.”

Boeheim recruited better players than most, coached them well and kept winning for the school he loved, the only place he knew. (It’s hard to remember covering a football or lacrosse game in Syracuse without seeing him sitting in the back row, as if Syracuse track and field were a double pastime alongside Syracuse basketball.)

Along the way, he saw Syracuse go from an independent to the Big East and now the ACC. He has coached 49 NBA players, and his emotional coaching pendulum has swung from the heartbreak of Keith Smart’s game-winner for Indiana in the 1987 NCAA title game, to the burgeoning 1996 team that raided the Final Four at the Meadowlands, to the groundbreaking 2003 team the Kansas rushed for the title.

“I hope in everything that is done that he is honored, but he will also be a part of this university for the rest of his life,” said Krzyzewski. “It would be a big mistake if that wasn’t done. A big, big mistake. I spoke to him yesterday. He and I are close and our families are close. It’s a difficult time, even if you already know it.”

Boeheim was criticized early in his tenure for not being successful with talented teams — the 1991 NCAA tournament loss to 15-seed Richmond stands out — and late in his career he was praised for helping the Syracuse zone do so effective in confusing opponents in the NCAA tournament. (Boeheim’s last two Final Fours came as No. 4 and No. 10.)

It was never perfect. Along the way, Boeheim survived two NCAA investigations (1992 and 2015) that resulted in postseason bans, witnessed the 2011 firing of longtime assistant Bernie Fine amid ugly abuse allegations, and tragically killed a pedestrian while driving on the freeway in 2019. ( He was cleared by the police of any wrongdoing in the accident.)

The second series of NCAA issues ended in 2015 with the school stating that Boeheim had to retire in three years. Boeheim walked past that suggestion – and the school looked the other way – because he won. The game plan worked until it didn’t.

What Boeheim brought in in the end was simply not achieving what he had focused on throughout his tenure: winning games. He admitted the joys of coaching his sons in 2021-22 despite the Orange going 16-17. That year, Syracuse, with a recalibrated roster, lost to Colgate and Bryant to finish the season (17-15) with five losses in six games. Boeheim, 78, grumbled about NIL and schools buying teams as the orange passed in the standings.

The school immediately appointed former star Adrian Autry, a top assistant since 2011, to replace Boeheim. It’s a daunting task that boils down to living up to the legend that not only set the program’s expectations but also defined the school.

“The end has to be better,” said Krzyzewski. “Maybe we can get this right in a week or two days. Right where everyone should know what their future holds. It was supposed to be in Syracuse, so all the fans and everyone knows they’ll always be a part of it. I can say that it helped us and our fans. It really helped with the transition. It shows a level of support for the new person. Adrian is a great choice.”

It is doubtful whether Boeheim strayed far from school; Instead of a dream home in the Caribbean, he recently bought a $5 million dream home on Skaneateles Lake, about 20 miles out of town.

But the ending for Jim Boeheim was suitably imperfect for someone who never wanted to make a fuss. Heading out of the conference tournament where he was always an underdog, Jim Boeheim’s last act was an evasive press conference, berating the media for not realizing he’d delivered his retirement speech over the weekend.

His farewell tour came via an awkward press release, the perfect, unceremonious end for a coach who never waited for a long farewell. The complicated legacy of Jim Boeheim at Syracuse

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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