By Chris Mahr
Before any Syracuse fans start spamming me with hateful emails and tweets in response to the headline above, please note that this column in no way criticizes Jim Boeheim’s abilities as a coach.
The man’s just as strong a leader now as he ever was. His Orange team has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond three out of the last four years. And each year he rakes in one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country — no small accomplishment.
Rather, my call for the 68-year-old living legend to call it quits after 37 years and 900-plus wins at his alma mater is born out a desire to see him happy. From the outside looking in, he appears anything but right now.
The man who took the podium following his team’s 74–71 loss at Marquette looked worn down. While Syracuse’s struggles over the past month (4–5 since January 26 after starting the season 18–1) likely have a lot to do with it, this seemed different than his usual curmudgeonly act.
Here were the “highlights” from that epitome of awkwardly passive aggressive press conferences:
- 0:46 – In response to a suggested defensive assignment from a reporter: “Our two best defensive players were in the game … You should try coaching. That’s what you think you are, so maybe you should try that.”
- 7:40 – A delayed reaction to a question regarding Syracuse’s player leadership: “Any more coaches here? Want to ask another coaching question? I’d be happy to take it. I’ve only been doing this 37 years, I’m sure you’ve got more ideas of who we should play or we shouldn’t play or who should lead? What do I know?”
- 9:11 – His closing words: “More ideas for me, guys? I think you ought to know by now, when you start asking me those questions, I just laugh at you. Go get your Pulitzer somewhere else.”
All of this came less than two weeks after a similarly testy exchange with ESPN’s Andy Katz following Syracuse’s loss to UConn on February 13. Boeheim, still outraged over Katz’s coverage of the Bernie Fine investigation, told him, “I’ll answer anybody’s question but yours because you’re an idiot and a disloyal person. There are a few other things I could add but I’m not going to go there.”
Granted, these two incidents didn’t symbolize Boeheim going off the rails. “He has … been conducting fairly combative press conferences since the mid ’70s,” wrote Syracuse.com’s Bud Poliquin on Wednesday. “Which amounts to a remarkable blend of staying power and surliness.”
My question to Boeheim: Why continue coaching when the surliness starts to outweigh that staying power? Why keep at it when you act like (and often say that) you don’t like what you’re doing?
And Boeheim’s list of dislikes is growing seemingly every day. He doesn’t like Andy Katz (the same could be said for media members in general). He doesn’t like conference realignment (this in spite of Syracuse being a part of it with their move to the ACC). And he said last year that, get this, he has never enjoyed coaching.
Just two years younger than the recently retired Jim Calhoun, Boeheim has talked glowingly about retiring numerous times in recent years. Take this quote from a story last September with The Syracuse Post-Standard:
- On how he will announce his retirement: “I’m going to have a press conference and I’m going to go in there and I’m going to say, ‘Thank you. It’s time to go.’ And then I’m going to go. And you’re all going to be sitting there. And I’ll be smiling at you. ‘Cause it’ll be my last time.”
- On if he will miss coaching: “No, I won’t. When you’ve done something for 36 years, there comes a point in time where you will not miss it. If you’ve done something for 15 and really want to keep going, then you’d miss it… I’m not going to miss a thing.”
The only one that’s forcing him to keep going is himself. Even though he doesn’t have anything left to prove. He’s the second winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, trailing only Mike Krzyzewski. He has a 2003 national championship to his name. He is both a Naismith Memorial and National College Basketball Hall of Famer.
Why not proudly look back on all those accomplishments, call it a career and ease into a post-basketball life? He has a loving wife, Juli, and three young children at home — all of whom he’s crazy about and all of whom he deserves to spend more time with (and vice versa).
On the whole, Boeheim looks like a tired man. And you would be tired, too, if you had spent 37 years building your alma mater into a perennial basketball power. No harm can come in Boeheim giving it all a rest. Including himself.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.
Photo Credit: Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports