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What should have been a sincere send-off for Jim Boeheim turned it into an awkward ending

No one comes out of this feeling great

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse Head Coach Introductory Press Conference Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The only way it was going to be a smooth exit for Syracuse Orange legend Jim Boeheim was if he won his second NCAA Championship and announced his retirement as Jim Nantz handed him his game-worn tie at center court.

Otherwise a section of Syracuse fans would have wanted the Hall of Fame coach to continue patrolling the sidelines of the court named in his honor. The fear from this side was that without Boeheim, the Orange would become the next Georgetown or Louisville. Other fans argued that the time had come to make a change before Syracuse became Indiana. Still, the wisest of us all knew the landing would be full of turbulence.

There would have been the continued divide (which is natural in sports to be honest) between fans who wanted a new coach and those loyal to the legend. I always felt Boeheim would wake up one June morning, call a short press conference and announce he was done. One because this would allow him to avoid the pomp and circumstance he seemed uncomfortable with, and two, because it would force Syracuse to replace him with his hand-picked selection.

What happened after the Orange lost to Wake Forest last week made Syracuse look bad. Boeheim stating “it was up to the University” in the media session put a harsh spotlight on the program during the middle of Championship Week. When the University announcement came that Adrian Autry was the new coach it didn’t mention retirement or feature any Boeheim quotes. It looked to many that he was “forced out” and it dominated the national conversation.

Last Friday’s press conference helped the public by making it clearer that this was Boeheim’s choice. The event gave Boeheim a chance to do what all of us wanted- say good-bye in a manner that fits his career. It also allowed Autry his deserved moment in the spotlight and helped to heal some of the Wednesday mess. I say some because the explanation from Boeheim was that he decided last Friday, the day before the final home game, that he was stepping aside but couldn’t meet with the Chancellor to share the news.

In 2023, we’re supposed to believe that this long-term plan needed another sit-down meeting before it could be announced? Even if he did couldn’t the post-game press conference have been answered in a manner that conveyed the proper reflection needed after a season-ending loss?

All of us would certainly understand if there was some wavering on Boeheim’s part after the way the last two seasons ended. He’s a competitor and I’m sure he wanted to go out on a higher note- probably one that included coaching both sons in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe he’ll do another book and share more details of this plan, because what happened last week didn’t seem like the culmination of a long-term plan.

I respect Boeheim’s choice not to make his decision public prior to the 2003 Celebration. It was Senior Day and a day for that team, especially Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara. It’s not Jim’s style to deflect positive attention from his players. It does hurt the Syracuse fans who want to give him a grand farewell, and hopefully this happens at the first weekend home game next November.

Just when it seemed like we’d be ready to move on to talking roster and staff for next season, Brent Axe was let go by Galaxy Communications, and station owner Ed Levine went on record to say it was because Axe was “too negative” in his coverage of Syracuse athletics.

Replacing a radio host is certainly not a Syracuse University decision but when Levine brought up his friend and business partner Jim Boeheim, it caught the eye of many in the national media.

The timing and explanation of Axe’s termination makes it appear this is a measure of revenge orchestrated by Boeheim. I don’t think this is the case, but like the coaching transition announcement, it’s become the story when there was no reason for it to be like this.

The story should have been that Jim Boeheim’s Hall of Fame career had come to a close. He had decided it was time to devote more to his family and turn over the program he was instrumental in bringing to the forefront of college basketball. Maybe it was always meant to be this way, but it didn’t have to be THIS way.