It was never out of the question that Jim Boeheim could quietly disappear into the night at the end of his coaching career. He was always a no-nonsense guy who never seemed to care much about the extravagance sometimes thrown his way.
Even so, yesterday’s abrupt announcement that Adrian Autry would be taking over as head coach of the Syracuse Orange was a shock to me. You’d think that even with recent struggles and bickering, the coach that resided over four decades of dominance wouldn’t get such a cold shoulder on the way out.
There will be a time to analyze if this was the right move, but not yet. Now, I’d like to try to give my thanks to the man who dedicated his life to keeping the basketball program strong. And to all the ‘Cuse fans out there, surely uncertain at what the future will bring - it’s ok to be sad that it’s over. Seriously. This was a level of loyalty to an organization that I doubt any of us will see again in our lifetimes.
So, when you feel that you’ve lamented Jim’s retirement enough, take a few minutes to look back at the defining moments of his journey.
When It All Began
It’s true that Coach Boeheim held that title for 47 seasons - but let’s not forget that before he took the head job, Jim also played for and worked as an assistant with the Orangemen. And his signature specs were present even in the black-and-white days.
I mention this because none of the incredible accomplishments Jim Boeheim earned later on would have happened if he did not successfully walk on to the SU freshman team. Yes, the man who became inseparable from Syracuse basketball first had to earn the trust to put on a uniform, then a jacket alongside Roy Danforth.
Thank you, Jim, for encompassing the underdog mentality of this city right from the start.
Rise of the Orangemen
Although SU had very successful regular seasons in Boeheim’s first decade behind the bench, the program’s history of not making a deep run in March had continued. That changed with a surprise playoff run in 1987. With Pearl Washington gone after three seasons, not many people expected that to be the year where the team would bulldoze past the Sweet Sixteen and all the way to the Championship game.
The ending was... bittersweet. But it gave the city hope again, hope that one day sooner than later, it would be the proud home of a Champion again.
Thank you, Coach, for elevating the program to national heights.
Establishing a Legacy
I can’t reflect on Boeheim’s Best without mentioning the mecca, the big one, the National Championship with his name on it. Much like 1986-87, there was pressure on SU to succeed, yet they weren’t expected to do so. But unlike the first time, the Orangemen would refuse to lose. Wins pilled up on the backs of Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Kueth Duany, the Craig Forth/Jeremy McNeil split at Center, and of course the man in the suit.
When all was said and done in the Championship game, it was a buzzer blocker instead of a buzzer beater that won the day for ‘Cuse - and got the program its long-awaited ring.
Thank you, Champion, for persisting for years to bring Syracuse together, on and off the court.
Being able to coach your son at the highest level of college basketball must have been a surreal experience. It was so nice, apparently, that Jim did it twice - bringing in his elder son Jimmy to join Buddy during their last college season. The W/L column will forever be a faint black eye on an otherwise incredible story, but that shouldn’t take away from the joy of spending the winding years of a career closer to family.
Thank you, Legend, for being able to enjoy yourself along the way.
Cemented in History
35 NCAA Tournament Appearances. Five Final Fours. From Unranked to National Champs.
The Basketball Hall(s) of Fame. The Jim Boeheim Court. The Ring of Honor.
Every single thing listed here has been earned and then some.
Thank you, James Arthur Boeheim Jr., for everything you have done, and will continue to do, for Syracuse - “The Greatest Place to Live.”