Not that I need to broach the topic, you've certainly been discussing him plenty over the last few weeks.
Ask any sports fan about Jim Boeheim and they'll give you a strong opinion. He's a jerk. He's fantastic. He's a whiner. He's underrated. He's overrated. He's successful. He's lucky.
Ask any Syracuse about Jim Boeheim and the opinions don't change very much. They just get louder.
That's been the case the last couple weeks, ever since Syracuse lost in the "3rd" round of the NCAA Tournament to Marquette. Coupled with the fact that UConn and Jim Calhoun just won another NCAA Title and Boeheim finds himself facing the brunt of various charges from The Court of Syracuse Fan Opinion.
Boeheim complained two-thirds of the way through this season about the way his career was being portrayed. Let's all hope he's not reading any Syracuse message boards right now.
I've been meaning to take some time to discuss Boeheim, his legacy, his future and his recent past and there's no better time that right now. I don't go into this with an agenda. Rather, just some real talk about the man, the myth, the legend.
Jim Boeheim & The Bracket of Secrets
A lot of folks have taken notice of Jim's post-season record ever since winning the National Title in 2003. In the eight seasons (EIGHT SEASONS!?!?) since, the Orange have gone to two NITs, lost in the first game twice, lost in the 2nd game once and lost in the Sweet Sixteen three times. By itself, that's not horrible. What really rubs people the wrong way is who we've lost to.
In each of the six seasons we made the NCAAs, we were ousted by a lower seed in five of them. #8 Alabama in 2004, #13 Vermont in 2005, #12 Texas A&M in 2006, #5 Butler in 2010 and #11 Marquette in 2011.
On paper, it doesn't look good. But that's what happened when you look at something on paper, it removed nuance and perspective. Because really, there's something missing from this argument.
2004 - The Orange were a 5-seed, hardly the dominant team they were the season prior. Alabama was no amazing team but they got us as the right time. They also had just upset No. 1 seed Stanford, so, keep that in mind.
2005 - The Vermont loss. Painful and about as inexcusable as they come. That said, I remember when I filling out brackets that year I decided to invest heavily in the RPI and Pomeroy Rankings. I also distinctly remember that, more than any other first round match-up in the tournament that year, the SU-Vermont one favored the lower seed. Not an excuse, I'm just sayin'.
2006 - Syracuse lost as a 5-seed to 12-seed Texas A&M. In reality, we probably didn't deserve that 5-seed. We wouldn't even have been in the tournament had Gerry McNamara not gone to Ludicrous Speed in the Big East Tournament. W were over-seeded and exhausted.
2009 - 3-seed Syracuse loses to 2-seed Oklahoma and Blake Griffin. Fair enough.
2010 - 1-seed Syracuse loses to 5-seed Butler. On paper, it never should have happened. But accounting for the Arinza Onuaku loss and the fact that Butler was severely under-seeded as a 5 (everyone forgets they were a Top 20 team all season) and in the midst of a great run to the title game, it's not the shocking loss a lot of people make it out to be. Disappointing, yes.
2011 - 3-seed Syracuse loses to 11-seed Marquette. A tough one to swallow. You expected the Orange to learn from their mistakes earlier in the year but it just looked like Buzz Williams and Marquette had our number. Interestingly, many people would start to simultaneously start to say Syracuse blew it while also saying they were overachievers this year. Gotta pick one...
2005, 2010 and 2011 are really the tough ones and the ones we can look back on and say Syracuse should have gone farther. And I think that's fair.
If you're a long-time Syracuse fan, though, none of this should be new to you. None of it. If you've followed Jim Boeheim's career long enough, you know that this is how it goes. This is how it ALWAYS goes. For better or worse. Jim has peaks. Jim has valleys.
The Jim Boeheim Arc is simple. Every 6-9 years, Syracuse makes an amazing run. For the years in between those glorious seasons, the Orange have small triumphs, big failures and questionable losses. That's not to say we should accept it, it's just how it goes.
1980 - Syracuse wins the Big East, finishes 26-4 and goes to the Sweet Sixteen.
For the next six seasons, the Orange go to the NIT twice (remember this), wash out in the NCAAs in the early rounds and go to one more Sweet Sixteen.
1987 - Syracuse goes all the way to the National Title game, losing to Indiana.
For the next eight seasons, the Orange do well for the most part but lose early in the NCAA Tournament with a few exceptions.For the most part, given the talent the team had, it underachieves.
1996 - Syracuse goes all the way to the National Title game, losing to Kentucky.
For the next six seasons, the Orange go to the NIT twice (there it is) and have minor success in the NCAAs, including two Sweet Sixteens.
2003 - Syracuse goes all the way to the National Title game, this time winning it and the Championship.
For the next eight years, the Orange go to the NIT twice (now this is getting freaky) and find moderate success in the NCAAs, making three Sweet Sixteens but also losing the opening weekend three times.
And so, here we are. If my calculations are correct, Syracuse is due for a run to the Final Four. The point of showing all of that wasn't necessarily to say we're going to win the National Title next year. Rather, it's to show that, like it or not, Jim Boeheim's Syracuse program has a flow to it. It's been happening for thirty years now. So as your concern grows over SU's recent Tournament woes and the distance since our last Final Four run, remember, Boeheim's been here before. And he's got a pretty good enough track record to warrant your trust at this point.
A Tale of Two Jimmies
There's no way to sugarcoat this. Jim Calhoun is winning. Yes, you and I know he's a cheater and a liar, but, championship rings don't lie. If both of them retired today, Calhoun would have three, Boeheim would have one and nothing else matters.
There's a reason we consider the Yankees the team of the 90's even though the Braves won more division titles and NL Pennants. Because the Yankees won more World Series.
There's a reason we remember the 90's Buffalo Bills as chokers and losers despite the fact that they went to four-straight Super Bowls. They didn't win any of them.
All we remember is championships. Everything else is just statistics.
Then again, if statistics is all you're going to give us. By God, we will take statistics.
Pushing titles aside for a moment, let's look at what Cuse Country called the unfortunate side effect of UConn's postseason run this year.
Thanks in large part to UConn’s deservedly terrible season last year, good Jim began this season with six more wins than bad Jim (829 to 823*). And the gap grew to a full ten wins by the end regular season, as Syracuse entered the BET with 25 wins on the year, compared to UConn’s 21. But SU only managed two post-season victories, while the Fighting Kembas have run off 10 straight to this point, with perhaps one more to go. So no matter what happens in tomorrow night’s game, SU will have some work to do next year to maintain Boeheim’s rightful position ahead of Calhoun.
Sure enough, after winning the NCAA Title this year, Calhoun's all-time win total has grown to 855.
Jim Boeheim's all-time win total? 856.
The hot rumor was that Calhoun would retire following this most recent championship but that doesn't look like it's going to happen now.
So Jim Boeheim's mission for the foreseeable future is clear. No. 1, win basketball games. No. 2, win another National Title.
By all accounts, Boeheim should pass Adolph Rupp (876) and Dean Smith next season (879), making him the No. 3 all-time winningest coach in Division 1 history. Stick around another year and it should be doable to pass Bob Knight (902) for No. 2. Coach K is currently at 900 and will pass Knight early next year. I think we can agree it doesn't look good for Jimmy to pass The Grand Dookie, but No. 2 on that list would be something.
And we certainly can't let Calhoun get there. He's got the titles. Boeheim needs the wins. Jimmy B needs to have more wins. It's not the same, but it's something, dammit.
The Lenny Wilkens of College Basketball
Up until very recently, Lenny Wilkens was the winningest coach in the history of the NBA. He had an NBA Championship in 1979 with the SuperSonics and another Finals appearance with the team.
Yet, if you ask most NBA fans to name the ten best coaches of all-time, Wilkens will not be one of them. He's the last guy on this list and he's probably gonna get pushed off for Gregg Popovich or Jerry Sloan one of these days. Wilkens is doomed to be remembered as a pretty good coach despite the fact that he did everything asked of him to be remembered as a great one.
It's the fate I've feared of Jim Boeheim for a long time. And the problem with it is that it almost has less to do with what you do and more to do with what others do. As Calhoun adds another title and Calipairi adds another Final Four to their belts, Boeheim's greatest deeds seem further and further away. Folks will continue to let the Izzos and Caliparis and Selfs and Roy Williams of the college basketball world keep climbing while Boeheim slides slowly down the list.
That's why one more Final Four, and especially another National Title, is critical to Boeheim's legacy. One more and Beoheim officially squashes the "past his prime" talk. He maintains his spot among the elite. His glowing resume becomes that much more sterling. He goes out on top.
Wilkens had the fortune to win early in his career but unfortunately that meant he peaked too early. Too many mediocre and "pretty good" seasons followed but never any great ones. Boeheim's had plenty of great years along the way, even recently, but one more deep tournament run is needed to cement the legacy and ensure Boeheim's stature.