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Syracuse basketball: The pastor, the parish and finding what’s next

Some call the Dome a church for Syracuse faithful, but leading that type of clergy can cause friction for the entire flock.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The age-old question about the chicken and egg doesn’t apply in the world of the faithful. There’s no doubting who, or what, came before any and all of us. It’s tucked in with the pews and the parish, this knowledge that a higher power created it all, and that the pastor or priest is a light shining a message from way on high, a means in which the message can be heard, felt and seen.

And sometimes, in certain Anytown, USA congregations, it’s understood that the leader of the flock is like a light bulb, occasionally in need of replacing. I understood that recently when I heard that a local pastor was retiring after a couple of well-served sermons. A man from the area who held court on Sundays, and for funerals, and even for weddings — mine included.

When told about his impending retirement, I fully expected to be in attendance for his final sermon on that final Sunday. What I didn’t expect to learn is that this man who had led the show for so many years was essentially on the verge of excommunication.

You see, I didn’t know that it is very common in churches of all varieties and denominations that any outgoing leader is not allowed back in. It’s not there to punish anyone, but rather to help. And it makes sense, of course. The idea is to give the newbie a chance to create their own path, lead without worry or fear that they’re doing something wrong.

There are exceptions and the pastor in this scenario has been told he can come back. Not right away, mind you, but after some time passes. It’s the church-ly thing to do. See, no matter the perspective, there’s always a little mud to go around with the change of leadership.

You bet, while watching the whole last lecture of his, I kept thinking about the church of the Carrier Dome. The home to a fanatical flock of frenzied faithful.

Religion, politics, and Orange athletics: What are the three subjects that will incite an argument, Alex?

At the time, about three weeks ago or so, I was fairly convinced that Jim Boeheim was about to step down. That he was fighting like mad to get his team into the tourney, one last hurrah, one last, “Screw you, everyone who thought we couldn’t!”

When he does step down, will he come back to the Dome? Will Mike Hopkins, the old, new Orange oration chief, keep Boeheim away? How will this weird, shaky deal actually go down? It’s more interesting than watching an awkward White House transition!

Holy shit, a lot can change in just a few weeks!

SU was left out of the Madness; Hop is in Washington; Boeheim has been wrung through the wringer; and Syracuse basketball seems like it’s in a state of disarray.

The interesting part to it all is how Boeheim is once again viewed as the bad guy. The Razor Ramon to someone’s, anyone’s 1-2-3 Kid. Like he’s out there spitting toothpicks and talking about machismo. The guy who some think ran Hop out of town. The guy who some others think played the administration into letting him coach forever. I read one column that suggested Boeheim made SU officials “cave,” almost like he was holding one of their kids ransom.


This is a faith-based proposition, being a fan, but that doesn’t mean we all have to lose our sense of reality or logic. Jim Boeheim didn’t want to retire, that’s pretty obvious.

It’s also understandable that the school, back in 2015, felt pressured to do something of a make-good publicly in light of another round of NCAA penalties involving the old coach’s program. So the administrators wrongfully gave Boeheim “three more years,” then even more idiotically announced that the athletic director was going to step down — not that he was forced to and not that he was fired, but that he was done doing AD duties and wanted to do something else.

That’s a whole bunch of bad choices made and a whole lot of blame to go around.

Without question Boeheim is not without some kind of culpability or blame here. His constantly referencing how close he is to retirement is a major reason why Syracuse is being run through the mud by most columnists and talking heads. If he didn’t always let us know how close to being out the door he felt, the subject wouldn’t be brought up at just about every press conference.

Secondly, forced or otherwise, somewhat tongue-in-cheek or not, Boeheim did say, back in ’15, that he would call it a career before or as the term limit came up. In 2015, to a man closing in on 70, thinking about three more years on the job probably is similar to what a sophomore in high school thinks about having to wait until graduation. It seems like forever away, so why bother really planning for it?

And yet, we’re all here now. Watching Syracuse University scramble to figure out what’s next. No right or wrong. Just an honest attempt to get to what’s next, for both the head man and his school. Both sides looking badly, both sides looking like they almost have no choice.

The funny is that, in all of those salt-of-the-Earth churches where the pastor has to walk away forever if he or she walks away at all, everyone is still left to do the same, to pick up and move on. Sure, there are doctrines that are years and years old, practically carved into tablets, telling everyone what to do to the old leader. But there is no perfect guideline, written or passed down by generations through fables, on how to pick the next person, or on who should be the next person.

The very parish I was visiting with still hasn’t found its permanent chief. That’s despite the fact that everyone had advance notice of the previous pastor’s plan to peace-out. But just like Syracuse found out, there really is no perfect succession of power. There are always bumps, and even some bruises.

The great thing for that clergy is that they have a great many people who care. Everyone there is devout in their devotion. They’ll maintain their ways. In other words, they’ll be okay.

That’s probably the same philosophy Syracuse fans should have, too. Sure, there are a ton of questions. Who will bring in the big-time recruits? Will this messy situation take a toll on the national reputation of the program? Will Boeheim go through all of this just to retire next year?

And the biggest question: Who takes over after Boeheim?

It’s tough to say, “Welp, life goes on and everything will be as it was,” because there are too many variables. And yet, for as ridiculous as it feels to write right now, Boeheim will eventually step down and step away. The church of Syracuse basketball will go on. You really just have to believe.