Jim Boeheim, the Hall of Fame Syracuse coach who became one of the faces of college basketball as the sport soared through his 47 seasons, was abruptly replaced as the team’s coach Wednesday after losing in a conference tournament.
Adrian Autry, a former player for Boeheim who has been the men’s basketball associate head coach since 2017, was named his successor hours after Boeheim told reporters it was “up to the university” to decide whether he would stay on as coach.
It was not immediately clear whether Boeheim had resigned or been fired, but the university announced his departure hours after Syracuse lost, 77-74, in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., to Wake Forest, on a 3-pointer in the game’s final second by Daivien Williamson.
The performance drew criticism of Boeheim, 78, on social media as well as on the game’s telecast. Boeheim himself hinted at retirement when he spoke to reporters minutes after the game, but also acknowledged his bosses.
“The university hired me and it’s their choice what they want to do,” Boeheim said.
Boeheim did not respond to messages seeking further comment.
Boeheim walked onto the Syracuse team in 1962 and left only briefly to play for the Scranton Miners of the Eastern Professional Basketball League. He returned to Syracuse to coach and was elevated to head coach in 1976 when Roy Danforth, who had led the team to the Final Four a year earlier, left for a bigger payday at Tulane.
It was so long ago that Gerald Ford was president of the United States, the American Basketball Association was about to merge with the NBA and Elvis Presley was still alive. Boeheim’s first season even predated the Big East Conference, whose formation coincided with the birth of ESPN and was instrumental in the growth of college basketball from a regional niche sport to one in which college players—and coaches—became nationally recognized figures.
If Georgetown’s towering, incandescent John Thompson Jr. and St. John’s curled-up, lovable Lou Carnesecca were the standard-bearers for the conference in its first year, there was room for other characters in the annual winter drama — Villanova’s combustible Rollie Massimino, Providence’s slick Rick Pitino (who once worked for Boeheim) and Boeheim, who wore horn-rimmed glasses, a knitted tie and a perpetually offended look on the sidelines.
Boeheim could come across as whiny, aloof and pompous, but he also rarely shied away from speaking his mind – whether it was on the state of the game, the team’s play or how long he planned to practice.
“I’m not Derek Jeter. There will be no farewell tour” he told Sports Illustrated in 2015.
It was that same year that Syracuse named Mike Hopkins, a former Syracuse player who was an assistant coach at the time, as the interim head coach. Two years later, Hopkins got tired of waiting and took the head coaching job at Washington, where he continued to coach this season.
“He has given his heart and soul to that school. I’m still surprised they don’t have a statue,” said Hopkins, who was an assistant under Boeheim for 22 seasons. “You think Syracuse University, you think Jim Boeheim.”
Boeheim has had transcendent stars from time to time — most notably Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman and Carmelo Anthony — but his adherence to a matchup zone defense has been as defining of Syracuse basketball as the team’s orange uniforms. He was as famous for the zone defense as Bob Knight was famous for the motion offense or Pete Carril was famous for the Princeton offense.
“Having — just the belief in a zone to never get out of it,” New Mexico coach Richard Pitino, son of Rick, said of Boeheim’s adherence to the tactic. “I mean when somebody hits a 3 against a zone, I get out of that thing so fast.”
As college basketball evolved into a more wide-open game, the Orange steadfastly stuck to the zone, and when their teams were good, they often confused NCAA Tournament opponents who weren’t used to seeing it. As the No. 11 seed, Syracuse upset San Diego State and then West Virginia to advance to the Round of 16 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
It was a particularly gratifying run for Boeheim given that his youngest son, Buddy, was the team’s star.
Boeheim also coached his son Jimmy, and with both players clearing NCAA eligibility, some fans thought it would be the perfect time for their father to retire as well. But Boeheim instead said he would continue and indicated at times that he could coach into his 80s.
“Because we’re having a bad year, you want me to quit? “I’m not quitting because we’re having a bad year,” Boeheim said last year. – I will train next year.
Twice in Boeheim’s career, the NCAA has levied penalties against Syracuse’s men’s basketball program. One time was in the early 1990s, when the program was placed on two-year probation for NCAA violations across multiple sports. In 2015, Boeheim was suspended for nine games after an investigation found academic misconduct, extra benefits and violations of the university’s drug testing policy that had been occurring for more than a decade.
Boeheim’s tenure was also briefly threatened in 2011 when an assistant coach who worked for him was accused of sexually assaulting a boy, though federal authorities dropped the investigation, saying there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations. (Boeheim was not charged with wrongdoing.)
While driving after a game in 2019, Boeheim struck and killed a pedestrian who had been involved in an earlier accident. He was not charged with a crime, and the victim’s family filed a lawsuit against him in 2020.
Boeheim is the fourth Naismith Hall of Fame coach to leave the Division I men’s division in the past three seasons, following North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Villanova’s Jay Wright. Together, the coaches won 11 national championships. After Williams retired after the 2021 season, Krzyzewski and Wright retired after last season. Boeheim’s official win total of 1,015 — he had 101 wins vacated by the NCAA — ranks second on the Division I career list behind Krzyzewski.
“There is no doubt in my mind that without Jim Boeheim, Syracuse Basketball would not be the powerhouse program it is today,” Kent Syverud, the university’s chancellor, said in a statement.
Under Boeheim, the Orange won the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament in 2003 with the talents of Anthony, who went on to be a superstar in the NBA. Although Boeheim only won a single national championship, his teams regularly reached the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four in five seasons.
But after reaching the Round of 16 in 2021, the Orange failed to make the tournament last year and, with a 17-15 record after Wednesday’s loss, are not projected to make it this season (NCAA Tournament eliminations are scheduled to be unveiled on Sunday).
Some fans grew increasingly unhappy with the poor results, Boeheim’s insistence on playing his trademark zone defense and his inability to consistently land top recruits.
Autry, 51, was a star point guard under Boeheim in the early 1990s, then went on to have a successful professional career, playing primarily in Europe. He began his coaching career in 2006 when he was hired as the assistant head coach at Bishop Ireton High School in Virginia. He was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech and eventually joined the Syracuse staff for the 2011-12 season. He was promoted to assistant head coach in March 2017.
“There have been very few more powerfully influential forces in my life than Syracuse University and Jim Boeheim,” Autry said in a statement. “They have both played such important roles and without either of them I’m sure I wouldn’t have this incredible opportunity in front of me.”