Jim Boeheim’s tenure mirrors that of a coach whose career spanned nearly half a century at Syracuse. From leading his alma mater to a national championship in 2003, to winning the second most games of any college basketball coach, to ushering in and out of the Big East Conference (as we knew and loved it) to his patented zone defense and press conferences (both just as annoying at times), and an end to his career that remained controversial until his last breath (he more or less forced the university to retire him after Wednesday’s loss), there’s no easy way to sum up Boeheim’s legacy.
One of the themes that lasts the surface is the trainer’s relationship to Syracuse and how synonymous he is with the school’s basketball program. We’ve had a few of those types of coaches retire after the last few seasons, with Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams retiring from Duke and North Carolina, respectively, and Jay Wright leaving Villanova.
College basketball’s blue bloods are still as relevant to the game as they’ve always been, but it’s the game that has changed. The best prospects may not put on a college uniform at all, and that’s with the one-and-done rule still intact. In the end, Boeheim was a dinosaur in every connotation of the word — a relic of the past, a towering presence and a dying breed.
One of the last celebrity coaches in the sport
There is only one trainer still active from the crowd of larger-than-life cameos Blue Chips, the 90s cult classic college basketball movie with kid Nick Nolte, and it’s Rick Pitino, who’s so disgraced he’s exiled in Iona. The other coaches were Bobby Knight, Lou Campanelli, Jerry Tarkanian and Boeheim. (Technically, two other active coaches appeared, Bobby Hurley and Matt Painter, but they were still players and many years removed from their coaching careers.)
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Blue Chips is ripe for a Hollywood reboot, but the script had to go through such heavy rewrites to modernize it that I don’t even know who the antagonist is anymore. More importantly, and just as relevant to this piece: Which coaches make cameos, and other than John Calipari and Bill Self, would the average sports fan be able to name the other two?
You certainly can’t ride Pitino out there. It’s probably Hurley and Painter as a call back to the original, but they’d be as much easter eggs as cameos. There was a time when college hoops had the gravitas of their football brethren, and Boeheim was right up there with the Nick Sabans, Dabo Swinneys and Brian Kellys of the world.
Best and worst Boeheim moments
We’ll start with the bad so we can end on a positive note. Over the past few years, essentially starting in 2015 and when he was more sharp critic than persuasive coach and threatening anyone who threatened him with retirement, Boeheim was annoyingly outspoken about anything that annoyed him (which was a lot of things) and often confrontational with media. Being in the media, of course I should mention it, but Syracuse has produced a number of talented and notable journalists through its J-school, and Boeheim’s crochetiness was not cute or endearing.
There was also an incident after a game in 2019 while driving home from a game when he hit and killed a pedestrian who had been involved in a previous accident. He was not charged with a crimeand the family later filed a lawsuit against him in 2020.
Okay, now for the good. The 2003 Orangemen team that won the title had one of my favorite runs through a tournament ever. Bleiedandy Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara led the group past four Big 12 schools in six tournament games, including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas in the final. The title game was a thriller with Warrick coming up with a timely block from his spot in the zone and Melo going for 20, 10 and 7.
It was the one missing piece in Boeheim’s trophy case, and it was admittedly cool to see him (and his defense) get the vindication he had sought for so long. Speaking of which, adios, coach.