1,015 official wins, five Big East Tournament championships, five Final Fours, and a national championship. That’s a mighty strong resume that Jim Boeheim leaves behind after 47 years at Syracuse.
But unlike so many of his peers, Boeheim’s Hall of Fame coaching career came to an end in a rather ignominious way. There was no goodbye tour like Coach K got. There was no well-orchestrated press conference like Roy Williams got. Heck, there wasn’t even a shocking or dramatic firing like Bobby Knight and Rick Pitino got.
Boeheim’s decade-spanning career as the only head coach most Syracuse men’s basketball fans have ever known ended with a whimper and a carefully worded press release.
Boeheim, it has been said, deserved better.
“Say what you want about Boeheim and the program over the last decade — yes, there has been a sizable slip, and it was time to move on — but he deserved better than this,” wrote the Daily Orange’s Connor Smith.
“If, as seems to be the case, Syracuse forced Boeheim out, that’s both wrong and unfair,” wrote John Feinstein in the Washington Post.
“The ending has to be better,” Mike Krzyzewski said.
“It seemed like a very COLD ending for a man that bled ORANGE for 6 decades,” Dick Vitale added.
“I do believe that he deserved a little bit more, like a better send-off…it should have been a little bit better,” said former Syracuse player Kris Joseph.
All of this is true. But while most blame Syracuse University for the way it all went down, the blame ultimately lies squarely at the feet of Boeheim himself for the inevitable position that he put the school, the program, and himself in.
Forever an unwilling participant in announcing his retirement or setting the program up for success beyond him, Boeheim made it impossible for a clean transition and satisfying conclusion to happen. Yes, the school and the coach ended up having a make-good press conference a few days later, but all things considered, the Boeheim-Syracuse divorce could have been way worse than how it actually went down.
While he was submissive and acted powerless on the day the school announced his time was over, Boeheim is just two months removed from telling reporters that it was “my choice.” While he said last week he “100%’ wanted to retire, he was mere months away from saying that he would “probably” return next season.
This was always Boeheim’s game. The school literally put a plan in place for his retirement in 2018, but he changed his mind and that was that. He would often talk about the pull he had over his employment decisions like a mob boss. He could go from talking about how he wanted to retire soon to chastising anyone who even dared to ask the question within days. He went from coach emeritus to coach ad infinitum every season, sometimes multiple times. His ego and fear about where he stood within in the context of his peers refused to allow him to let go, no matter what anyone else thought.
He was always going to make this difficult and hard. And there’s a way to see that as a sign of how much this all meant to him in an admirable way. But the consequence is that everyone else has to look like a jerk because of you.
It’s not unlike being a parent dealing with an unruly toddler who won’t leave the playground even though it’s getting dark. You’re going to look like a bad parent for dragging them away, but you don’t have a choice.
Perhaps the only college basketball writer who seemed to get this was The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil.
“It could — and should — have ended a lot better than this,” wrote O’Neill.” “An end to such a career deserves something more. Of course, the career owner has to allow for it, and Boeheim just couldn’t. He has been and is, even in the end, his own worst enemy. It’s not only because he is too stubborn or mean or arrogant to walk away; he is, no doubt, many of those. Mostly, he’s too reluctant. This is less about the fight to stay and more the fear of letting go.”
If your takeaway from the way Boeheim’s retirement played out is that he deserved better than that, you’re right. But don’t forget to lay the blame at the feet of all parties that got him to that point.