The last thing Jim Boeheim needs is motivation. Someone who has been doing the same job now for forty years isn't looking for "bulletin board material" to get himself out of bed each morning. Really, I'm pretty confident Boeheim would be more pissed at the person thinking he needs motivation than at the person who actually slighted him. The old coach reminds me a little of John Wooden in that he isn't for big game "rah rah" shenanigans. If you need help getting yourself ready to play (or coach) major college basketball, then you're probably in the wrong locker room.
Boeheim is in basketball for the basketball.
It's why he never left Syracuse. It's why he's never cared about perceptions, his or yours. We all watch him on the sidelines wondering why he makes those faces or gestures, or scratches. I'd bet he probably forgets there are people watching, in the gym or from home. The court is kind of like his quarry, where he happily clocks in and clocks out, always chipping away but never quite finishing the job.
Still, I think we all know that the coming season, and however many the Hall of Fame coach has left in him, will certainly carry a little something extra. Boeheim openly told ESPN that the sanctions he and Syracuse face are "excessive," and he'll probably echo that again a time or two in the coming months. After the NCAA came down hard on Boeheim, publicly punishing him by taking away victories and banning him for nine conference games, he'll be even more curmudgeonly. And subtly or not so subtly carrying the motivator of: Stick it to everyone.
From the very first post-game presser of the year, through the Battle 4 Atlantis, to the ACC gauntlet, the team may not be, but Boeheim will be must-watch television. The crankiness will be turned up to 10 and the knob will be ripped off. I wouldn't be surprised to see Boeheim use any and all interviews as a chance to continue his appeal against the NCAA -- it's not like he has ever been too shy to give his real opinions, even when it may be best for him not to. Just the same, we wouldn't do a double take if Boehiem went Marshawn Lynch and responded to questions with something like, "I'm just here so I don't get suspended for a tenth game," before storming off. It will be more of the same when it comes to Boeheim's usual behavior, but it will be double. Like when Mario goes invincible after getting a star, just running through every thing and stomping on everyone, no worries about retaliation.
But what would really be amazing would be Boeheim yanking the trophy out of Mark Emmert's hands in Houston this April. How can the coach not daydream about that on the way to the office or the golf course? A metaphorical, all-caps F___ YOU to the NCAA and to all the fans, reporters, columnists and pundits who have called for his head at one point or another in the past seven months. An opportunity to grab the mic through the falling confetti, while clinging to the trophy and wearing the net like an Olympic gold medal, and proclaim, "You all swung and you all missed. I'm still here. I'm still coaching."
Which may really be the basis for this season for Boeheim. I know the NCAA never implicated him in anything nefarious. He wasn't found to have lied or covered up infractions, or even taken part in any rules breaking. But the point the NCAA was trying to make was crystal clear: As head coach, Jim Boeheim should have known rules were being broken, he should have monitored better. The dirty details of the report centered on other people within the athletics department, but the NCAA painted Boeheim as a king without control over his kingdom.
That type of label, the dreaded "lack of institutional control," typically spells the end for the labelee. I don't care how Syracuse University couched it, Daryl Gross isn't Athletic Director anymore because of that report released last spring. And I'm sure there were a lot of fans wondering if Boeheim would also be out the door, too. I certainly read plenty of columns asking if it was time for the icon to either step down or be pushed to the side, by a university looking to do NCAA damage control. For a few weeks last March it was a legit question: Is this the end of Jim Boeheim, Syracuse University employee?
The answer keeps coming. He's. Still. Standing. It's like a "PG" version of Jerry Tarkanian. He's denied wrongdoing. He's laid out his case as to why he shouldn't have been punished. He's implied that the NCAA has targeted Syracuse and himself, looking to make examples out of them. He's been waiting to attack back.
And now, as the season gets going, we're about to witness up close and personal what it's like when someone survives (another) NCAA scandal. Other successful coaches haven't been able to fight the law the same way Jim Boeheim (and Tark) has throughout his career. Unlike those poor souls who were banished, like Jim Tressel and Bruce Pearl (who is back in the spotlight, but regulated to background dancer at Auburn), he has center stage for as many performances there are left. And if his appeal is lost, what kind of return will Boeheim make once he sits out those nine conference games? God have mercy on the reporter who asks the first question. The retribution will be televised and it will be brutally entertaining.
Of course, SU probably won't be good enough to make a run for Boeheim to meet up with Emmert in Texas. That amazing scene, like if Bill Belichick were to stand next to Roger Goodell in February, may have to wait a year. Replacing Rakeem Christmas will be just about impossible, given what the big man meant to the offense, defense and to team chemistry. Plus, while the incoming freshman are talented, there will be plenty of growing pains to work through. And what about Kaleb Joseph, can he really run point? Can Trevor Cooney ever find his lane and stay there? There are just too many question marks for 2015-16.
Yet, we all know those potential issues won't keep Boeheim from doing what he does best. Everything else be damned, there is basketball to be played and he's the coach and he wants to win. All per the usual. Which is normally reason enough. This time, though, it's just a bit more personal.