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Jim Boeheim’s loyalty: the biggest reason he could never call it quits with the Orange

In a new era of college hoops, Boeheim’s career reflected loyalty, commitment, and an unwavering love for his alma mater

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NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of the Syracuse Orange’s Wednesday announcement that Jim Boeheim will no longer serve as head coach after 47 seasons with the team, a lot of uncertainty still looms over what happened behind the scenes over what led to the decision.

But, one thing does remain a certainty: no one loved ‘Cuse quite like Boeheim.

Long coaching careers are nothing new in college hoops, but a long coaching tenure at one institution? No, that’s a different story.

Some of Boeheim’s peers have exited the NCAA men’s basketball coaching the world in recent years, including Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jay Wright. Amid the increased use of the transfer portal, the ramifications of NIL, and a shift in coaching philosophy in the modern era, there won’t be another Boeheim.

It’s really simple: loyalty doesn’t exist in college basketball anymore.

Syndication: USA TODAY Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY NETWORK

A lot of people in the Syracuse community asked why Boeheim didn’t leave sooner, from the botched Mike Hopkins succession proposal to Boeheim’s multiple “retirement plans” that ultimately never went through.

There’s no question that Boeheim is a legend. Unfortunately, the fatal flaw with legends is that most rarely know when to call it quits.

Just look at the NBA and how many familiar faces stayed for too long: Dwyane Wade, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and so on. Even in the NCAA, plenty of coaches either overstayed their welcome or remained with the program for that one extra “wait, are we sure want to keep this guy around?” season.

The problem isn’t this season, but the next one. The last thing Syracuse needs is to turn into what we saw from Georgetown and Louisville.

The Boeheim’s, Bobby Knight’s, and John Thompson’s of the world grew up in a college basketball context defined by institutionalism, building from the ground-up, and embracing the school. In today’s era, that doesn’t exist anymore as much as it used to.

Players are jumping between teams like NBA free agency on steroids. With more options to join the pros, the elite of elite talent are playing with overseas teams, Overtime Elite, or the NBA’s G-League. The NCAA embraced a new culture where individual success matters over loyalty, for better or worse. Fans typically cheer for the schools, but especially with the rise of “one-and-done” prospects who already have their eyes geared to greater heights, there are fewer and fewer emotional ties between players, coaches, and the school they represent.

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

Even with a rabid fanbase and a university administration trying to push him out of the door, Boeheim didn’t waiver. Why would he? He probably loves Syracuse and the community more than anyone. Over the years, Boeheim took over at a relatively unknown school as SU faced a crisis to begin the seventies: under-enrollment, competition with other institutions, financial instability, and a city stuck between the old ways of the traditional industrial revolution and the new era of society.

It’s hard to fault Boeheim here. In a place like Syracuse which has seen so much change since Boeheim took the helm as coach in 1976, he stayed when few would.

That same love for Syracuse ultimately led to his eventual fall from grace. As college hoops was transforming in 2023, Boeheim kept his 2003-like style and remained against the grain with where the sport was heading. On a similar point, here’s how Dana O’Neil from The Athletic described the predicament with Boeheim’s future:

“He has been and is, even in the end, his own worst enemy,” O’Neil wrote. “It’s not only because he is too stubborn or mean or arrogant to walk away; he is, no doubt, many of those. Mostly, he’s too reluctant. This is less about the fight to stay and more the fear of letting go.”

My theory: Boeheim never actually wanted to officially say “I am retiring from the Syracuse basketball program.” He didn’t want a Coach K style farewell tour throughout a season. He didn’t need flowers, gifts, or commemoration. For Boeheim, it’s always been his life, and now, he doesn’t have that. He couldn’t bring himself to formally declare retirement from the program.

And... can you really blame him? I know I wouldn’t, especially because I know no one cared more about Syracuse basketball longer than the coach that’s been at the helm of the program since my parents were in diapers.

For better or worse, legends never walk away... even if we think they should.