I'll be honest, there was a part of me that wasn't all that excited about reading Bleeding Orange, the new autobiography by Jim Boeheim (with a little, or more likely a lot of, help from Jack McCallum).
I kinda had it in the back of my mind that it was just going to be the same trip down memory lane that we got with books like Color Him Orange or even How To Grow An Orange. By now, all Syracuse Orange fans know the story about how Boeheim "almost" took the Rochester job, how he ruined Rick Pitino's honeymoon, that he briefly considered the Ohio State job and that Derrick Coleman was a pain in the ass. Would this just be a regurgitation of those stories?
Well, yes, it is. But in truth, Bleeding Orange is so much more as well. It's exactly what an autobiography should be. A look back at one's life with a honest take, insights that only you would have and with tidbits that readers wouldn't get anywhere else.
As someone who came into Orange fandom late, at least by Jim Boeheim standards (20 years after he took the helm of the program), I'm always fascinated to hear the stories behind the stories we know. For instance, I really had no idea just how little Jake Crouthamel cared about SU basketball. And in part, his lack of interest in anything other than football was a huge part of the reason Boeheim was able to grow his program on his terms. He really was on an island, so to speak.
I'm sure that a lot of non-SU folks expect the book to be a series of boastful declarations and whining rants because that's the superficial concept of Jim Boeheim they get from his interviews and press conferences. Of course, SU fans know that Boeheim is a much more layered person than that. In fact, we know he's a sensitive ol' bugger filled with doubt and dread and painful memories of losses that overshadow jubilant celebrations of victory. That version of Boeheim comes through for sure. Even when he's honestly assessing someone in a way that could be considered "a shot," he's following it up with an admission of his own shortcomings or guilt.
Too many specific moments I found fascinating to mention here, plus I don't want to spoil much for you guys. If you've ever wondered which players Boeheim holds with high regard and which ones he holds with...not-so-high regard, you will find out. He doesn't mince words. You probably already know most of the biggest reveals but there's a lot in there for hardcore Orange fans who appreciate the backstory to specific games and moments that shaped the program.
Another concept I found personally interesting was the way Boeheim drops little nuggets about his philosophies throughout. If you've ever wondered why Syracuse schedules the way it schedules, why we recruit guys whose only skill appears to be shooting three-pointers and why we play a certain type of defense, you will get answers from the guy who makes those decisions.
A bonus feature of the book is that mixed throughout the historical look back, Boeheim recaps the 2013-2014 basketball season as it happens. That means peeks into how Boeheim was really feeling going into the season, his personal rundown of the Duke games and how hard he took the early NCAA Tournament exit (Spoiler: hard). The immediacy of that part of the book will fade over time but in the here and now it's a great oral history of the recent past.
If there's any criticism I have of the book, I suppose it's that I feel like it might have been written a few years too soon. When I first head Boeheim was writing an autobiography, I assumed that meant he was going to retire right after the book came out. Now that we're here, I'm almost positive that's not the case. Not even close. And yet, I am curious about the timing. Did Boeheim want the book to come out before NCAA sanctions possibly crippled his legacy? Did he want the book to come out before the outcome of the slander lawsuit he's involved in? Coincidentally or not, he can't really talk about either of those situations in the book (for obvious reasons) and so there is a sense that the story isn't entirely complete.
Early on, Boeheim says that if he hadn't made it as a basketball coach, he probably would have ended up taking over the family business as a funeral home director. There's quite a few easy jokes to be made there. But when you read about Boeheim's story and how he fought to avoid that fate, basically on his own, to go from mortician's kid to small town basketball star to college basketball walk-on to assistant coach to one of the most successful college basketball head coaches of all time, you can't help but respect the way he accomplished his goals on his own terms. And how that path informs the way he sees and reacts to the world around him.
He'll be the first to tell you he's not perfect and he's no angel. Syracuse fans wouldn't want it any other way.
Except, maybe, you know, with one more Final Four thrown in there...
You can purchase Bleeding Orange in paperback or e-book here.