I am six years and six months older than Jim Boeheim, and did not think I’d live to see the day he was no longer the men’s basketball coach at Syracuse University. But that day arrived on March 8 in an abrupt, awkward manner that was typically Boeheim and typically Syracuse University.
In a press conference that day — after his team lost to Wake Forest on a last-second shot in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament — Boeheim was asked about his future, but was evasive. He hedged about retiring, saying his future was up to the university administration. A short time later, the school issued a statement that Boeheim had coached his last game and had been replaced by long-time assistant, Adrian Autry. The statement did not say Boeheim had been fired, nor that Boeheim had retired.
When questioned immediately after the university statement hit the news, Boeheim claimed he had announced his retirement four days earlier after the final game of the regular season, also against Wake Forest, and the media had missed it. Thus Boeheim’s clumsy relationship with the media continued until the very end of his coaching career.
I always liked Boeheim for the same reason so many others didn't — because he was such a prototypical Central New Yorker. Being defensive, defiant, direct, and often disagreeable is in our DNA. I grew up two miles from Syracuse, but left when I was 23. Boeheim always sounded like one of the guys I played basketball with as a boy, and as an adult, the sound of Boeheim’s whiny rants was a reminder of home. I understood his pain, his skepticism, his annoyance at being asked stupid questions.
Over the years, people got used to Boeheim, whose voice became more gravely than whiny, and whose taste in clothing improved considerably. No longer was he the funny-looking guy in the hideous sports jackets. And while I'm puzzled by how his first wife, Elaine, and their adopted daughter, Elizabeth, are so little acknowledged, there's no doubt Boeheim's image improved significantly when he remarried, to Juli Greene, an unusually attractive woman who mellowed Boeheim and helped him become active in the community.
Juli and Jim Boeheim have three children, and one of them, Jackson Thomas "Buddy" Boeheim, became a star on his father's team, joined in his senior season by brother Jimmy, who transferred from Cornell. Unfortunately, the Boeheim brothers played on the only one of their father's 47 teams that had a losing record.
(The third child, Buddy's twin sister. Jamie, was a basketball star in high school, but gave up playing the sport after one season as the University of Rochester.)
EVERYONE AGREES Boeheim is a unique man truly deserving of his place in college basketball's Coach's Hall of Fame. Perhaps some day the NCAA will do the right thing and restore the 101 victories it stole from Boeheim several years ago. Every Syracuse fan knows Coach Boeheim has 1,116 wins in his remarkable, often controversial career. Even minus 101 of those wins, Boeheim is number two all-time, behind his friend, Mike Krzyzewski, who had more than 1,200 wins, most of them at Duke, before he retired.
So give Boeheim all the praise he deserves ... but I do take issue with one things said and written about him. He did not revive the Syracuse University basketball program. That was done by Fred Lewis, who replaced Marc Guley in 1962 after Guley’s teams had won only six games (and lost 41) in his last two seasons. (To be fair, Guley’s 1956-57 team played in the NCAA tournament, and that year only 23 teams were invited to participate. Syracuse won two games in the tournament before losing to North Carolina.)
In Lewis’s second season, Syracuse posted a 17-8 record, and two years after that, with Dave Bing as the star (and Boeheim also in the starting line-up), Syracuse had a 22-6 record and made it to the NCAA Elite Eight.
Lewis apparently had disagreements with the university over the importance of basketball — hard to believe now, but at the time Syracuse was considered a football school — so he left, and was replaced by an assistant, Roy Danforth, who’d played for Lewis at Southern Mississippi. Danforth posted a 148-70 record in eight seasons. The highlight was Syracuse’s first Final Four appearance in 1975. Syracuse's 78-76 win over North Carolina on March 20, 1975, may have been the biggest victory in school history to that point, and it was followed by a 95-87 overtime win against Kansas State, which put the team in the Final Four. Alas, the Orange lost to Kentucky and then to Louisville in the consolation game that was part of the tournament in those days. (That year's tournament winner was UCLA.)
After four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, Danforth left for the head coaching job at Tulane. Taking charge of the Syracuse team was Boeheim, who’d been one of Danforth’s assistant coaches. The rest, as they say, is history.
SO GIVE credit to Lewis and Danforth for restoring the Syracuse program. I've read it was Danforth who instilled in Boeheim a love of the 2-3 defense that helped make Boeheim successful.
(It's too bad he didn't install Lewis's offense that during the 1965-66 season, averaged 99 points per game, tops in the nation. They beat St. John’s 113-97, Creighton 114-104, and three times scored 120 points or more.)
ANYONE who talks or writes about a basketball program that was "turned around" should be aware of that program’s history. Too many of today's sports fans seem think sports did not exist before they were born.
True, basketball in the good old days bore little resemblance to today’s game, and it may be politically correct (or woke) to dismiss an era when college teams were exclusively Caucasian. But if you are going to credit a coach for “turning a program around,” then you have a duty to acknowledge the history of that program. If there were no history, then there'd be nothing to turn around.
While Jim Boeheim was head basketball coach at Syracuse for an incredible 47 years — and had been associated with the school for 60 years — he was not the first Syracuse graduate to spend his entire coaching career at his alma mater.
Eddie Dollard went Boeheim one better. While Boeheim was born in Lyons, New York, some 60 miles west of Syracuse, Dollard grew up in the city, played basketball at at Syracuse high school (Christian Brothers Academy), and played four seasons at Syracuse (he also was a catcher on the baseball team) before graduating in 1908. He was the basketball coach for 13 seasons, having 152 wins and only 58 losses. His 1917-18 team was later declared the Helms Foundation National Champions. His 1913-14 team was undefeated in 12 games.
DOLLARD was replaced by the legendary Lew Andreas, who’d played football and baseball at Syracuse. He coached the basketball team for 24 seasons, winning 358 games against only 134 losses. His 1925-26 team had a 19-1 record, and it, too, was declared the Helms Foundation National Champions. Andrews also was the football coach for three seasons (1927-29). And after he left coaching, he was the Syracuse athletic director.
So heap a lot of praise on Jim Boeheim. He certainly deserves it, but let’s not forget the coaches who preceded him.
Here’s hoping Adrian Autry is the next Syracuse graduate to enjoy a long and successful coaching career at his alma mater.