Last year, in the wake of NCAA sanctions and a demand for reparations and change, Syracuse University announced that longtime head basketball coach Jim Boeheim would end his Hall of Fame career after the 2017-2018 season and hand the keys to the kingdom to Mike Hopkins.
At the time, it felt logical. Given his age and what was happening around his program, it seemed as though He Who Was Syracuse Basketball would finally be ready to step aside. It felt locked in.
In the week leading up to the Syracuse Orange's sixth overall Final Four appearance and fifth with Boeheim at the helm, that premise no longer seems locked in. Or at the very least, Boeheim is enjoying trolling the hell out of everyone until then.
Depending on who he's talking to and how he feels about his audience, Boeheim has been contradictory and flippant about his retirement schedule all week. The key quote is the one on how he feels about retirement in general.
"I've always thought you should walk away when you can't win anymore," Boeheim said when asked if he'd retire if Syracuse won the national title. "I never really thought you should walk away when you do win."
When he was on the Dan Patrick Show, he expanded the notion that so long as things are working, there's no reason to retire:
"I think the only reason coaches get out is if they are bad (laughs)," Boeheim said. "Things are bad and aren't looking good. Then maybe its time to get out. I've talked to a lot of coaches and they all said the same thing: coach as long as you can."
As if defending himself against a charge that no one levied, he talked about great he feels, implying he's no more worn down today than he was a decade ago.
"I feel the same as I did 10 or 20 years ago," Boeheim said Friday. "I probably feel better. I’m doing pilates two times a week now for two years. The 10 or 15 years before that, I didn’t work out. I’m probably in better shape now. I’m in the weight room a little bit now, which I didn’t do for the 20, 30 years before that, since I stopped playing.
Boeheim knows how to use words to his advantage. He's said that he still "intends" to retire in two years. He has "no plans" to coach beyond his two year deadline. It's the same thing an underclassman says about their intentions to return to school before eventually going pro. He's even openly said he actually has no idea when he's going to retire.
"I’ve never known how long I’m going to coach. I still don’t know how long I’m going to coach. You know, that’s not something I think about. I’ve never talked about my contract or the length of it or years. I’m still not talking about it. I just know that you could retire tomorrow. I mean, I don’t know. It just depends what happens."
When challenged on the notion that he's being coy about his stated retirement date, he of course refuted it absolutely while then immediately throwing it into doubt again. A classic Boeheim move.
"I disagree, I don't think I've ever said that," Boeheim said, when it was stated that he had been ambiguous. "Well, nobody knows. It might be this month, yeah, I mean in that way. In other words, it could be. But I've never had any ambiguity about how long that I was going to coach."
Now, on the flip side of all this "evidence" is Syracuse Athletic Director Mark Coyle, who when asked about the agreement for Boeheim to step down in a few years said that it still stands firm.
"The plan before I was hired was that he would work through the three seasons," Coyle said, "so he has two more seasons left on his current contract."
So, when the contract expires in two years, could Boeheim be extended?
"No, my current understanding of the agreement is that when his contract expires, that's when the window expires," Coyle said.
Of course, as Coyle says, it's all a plan. Plans are not firm. Plans change.
Now, if you know Jim Boeheim, you know he enjoys getting in his shots at the media when he can. He also likes taking advantage of his perch in the moments when he's given one. So it's entirely possible this is all one big troll-job meant to make media members waste their time and effort fumbling over his time-frame and legacy. It feels like a very Boeheim thing to do.
But the truth is, by the time 2017-2018 gets here, the NCAA sanctions will be a distant memory. If the Orange are winning, and there's no reason to think they won't, it's not inconceivable to think that Boeheim will stick around longer than the agreed-upon date. I certainly wouldn't be shocked.
Perhaps the truly shocking thing would be if Boeheim actually left when he was supposed to. I've always felt he was destined to stay at Syracuse 1-2 seasons too many. Like the man said, if you're winning, why would you leave? So of course he's not going to retire after this year. Probably not next year either. And if he's winning in 2018, why not keep winning in into 2019?
Of course, that vision ultimately leads to a sour ending for the Boeheim Era. The program eventually takes a step back. Everyone turns on Boeheim. He leaves in a huff mid-way through a season and everyone feels terrible. That's how some of the best coaches of all-time ended their tenures because they don't know when to walk away, and even when they know, they don't want to.
And that sums it up. I think Jim Boeheim is smart enough to know when to walk away. I just don't think he'll ever really want to.