With the waters finally calming in light of the end of Jim Boeheim’s 47-year tenure as head coach of the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team, it’s time to provide a bit of clarity over what led to the decision by Syracuse Athletics behind the scenes.
Obviously, there’s still a lot of gray area behind what specifically happened behind closed doors, but Friday’s introductory press conference for new head coach Adrian Autry did shine a light on some factors that mattered in what would be Boeheim’s final season.
Mike and I already tackled general takeaways from the Autry side of the Friday presser. Now, I’ll be providing you with the biggest takeaways from the Boeheim point of view.
Here were some of the points I noted that seemed relevant within the context of the fallout behind the end of Boeheim’s tenure.
The Georgia Tech loss: a turning point
As the comment section from our game coverage alluded to, Boeheim’s approval rating plummeted after the Orange were embarrassed 96-76 to Georgia Tech at home on February 28. The loss marked Syracuse’s fourth-straight loss of the season and happened to also be the team’s fourth-straight loss by 17 or more points. After Syracuse won three games in a row (including to then-ranked NC State), the Orange dropped consecutive games to Duke, Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech while forking over 90.8 points per game to its opposition.
During the Friday presser, Boeheim said when the team hit that stretch, the team wasn’t very good and admitted that neither was his coaching. Boeheim said that stretch “felt” like it was time.
When did Boeheim notify the rest of the team?
That would be in the aftermath of Syracuse’s heartbreaking 77-74 loss to Wake Forest in the second round of this year’s ACC Tournament. John Wildhack, Syracuse University’s Director of Athletics, said at the press conference that Boeheim met with the team back at the hotel postgame on Wednesday to notify the team about the decision.
Wildhack said the university wanted to provide as much clarity as possible, leading to the Wednesday news release confirming that Boeheim’s career came to an end and Autry taking over the helm as head coach for the program.
The desire to “clarify” the direction of the program also came shortly after Boeheim’s (*cough* head-scratching and confusing) postgame press conference after the Wake Forest loss, where he said he gave his retirement speech the Saturday before the ACC Tournament when Syracuse celebrated its 20th anniversary of the 2003 championship.
Obviously, the big question left unanswered is why there wasn’t a quote or comment of any kind from Boeheim in that news release. Wildhack said he and Boeheim talked before the release was publicly sent out and emphasized that both Wildhack and Boeheim had a lot of good, constructive conversations with “no friction.”
“Once we knew that information, I thought it was important we provide clarity, clarity to our fans, clarity to our team in terms of a vision going ahead for this program,” Wildhack said.
Wildhack also emphasized multiple times the idea of “the plan” for Boeheim’s successor and said the plan came to “fruition over the past couple of months” before arriving at Friday’s presser.
“We’ve executed the plan. Any plan that you do, there’s some twists and turns to it, but what’s most important is the outcome... we have the right outcome,” Wildhack said.
On the successor plan, Boeheim said it was in place for “quite a while” in terms of transitioning the program from him to a new coach. Boeheim clarified the road to a successor is something that was talked about through really good conversations “going back multiple years.
What’s next for Boeheim?
Wildhack said Friday that he and Boeheim plan to meet sometime this week to discuss Boeheim’s future role within the program moving forward.
Wildhack also hinted at some future event that will be dedicated to celebrating Boeheim’s tenure with the Orange.
“You thought last week was fun... wait till you see what we do for coach Boeheim,” Wildhack said.
Both Wildhack and SU Chancellor Kent Syverud showed strong praise for Boeheim on Friday, highlighting the legacy he created for both the program and the local Syracuse community.
“Few people can say these days that they began and finished their career at one place, and even fewer can claim to have the transformative effect and success that we celebrate today. Jim (Boeheim) is the winningest coach in Syracuse University history. Given the realities of college athletics today, it is highly unlikely there ever will be another person at Syracuse or at any other school, who will replicate Jim’s achievements.” Syverud said.
The common theme with the press conference, especially from Syverud’s opening remarks, was that the shift from Boeheim to Autry was a passing of the torch moment. Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to specifically see what Boeheim’s role within the program will be heading into the Autry Era.
Regardless, Boeheim ended his own remarks at the Friday presser by emphasizing his love for SU and Syracuse in a touching moment.
“I picked Syracuse as the place with Rick Pitino and our wives, and they picked Paris, Bermuda, and California. I picked Syracuse. They all walked away,” Boeheim said.
The crowd erupted in laughter before Boeheim ended with this one-liner that led to a final standing ovation from those in attendance.
“Guess what? I’m still here.”