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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Jim Boeheim out as Syracuse coach after 47 seasons

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim during a NCAA men’s basketball game against Oklahoma during the NCAA East Regionals in Albany, N.Y., March 30, 2003.

By Adam Zagoria and Billy Witz

Jim Boeheim, the Hall of Fame Syracuse coach who became one of the faces of college basketball as the sport rose in stature through his 47 seasons, was abruptly replaced as the team’s coach earlier this week after losing in a conference tournament.

Adrian Autry, a former player for Boeheim who has been the men’s basketball team’s associate head coach since 2017, was named as his successor hours after Boeheim told reporters it was “up to the university” to decide whether he would continue as coach.

It was not immediately clear whether Boeheim had retired or been fired, but the university announced his departure hours after Syracuse lost, 77-74, in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, to Wake Forest, on a 3-pointer in the game’s final second by Daivien Williamson.

Wednesday’s performance prompted criticism of Boeheim, 78, on social media as well as on the game’s television broadcast. Boeheim hinted at retirement as he spoke with reporters minutes after the game but also acknowledged his bosses.

“The university hired me, and it’s their choice what they want to do,” he 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 in the Eastern Professional Basketball League. He returned to Syracuse to coach and was elevated to head coach in 1976 when Roy Danforth, who 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, glowering John Thompson Jr. and St. John’s rumpled, lovable Lou Carnesecca were the standard-bearers for the conference in its early years, 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, knit ties and a perpetually aggrieved 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, his team’s play or how long he planned to coach.

“I’m not Derek Jeter. There will be no farewell tour,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2015.

It was in that same year that Syracuse designated Mike Hopkins, a former Syracuse player who was an assistant coach at the time, as the head coach in waiting. Two years later, Hopkins grew tired of waiting and took the head coaching job at Washington, where he continued to coach this season.

“He’s 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 of Syracuse University, you think of 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 a characteristic of Syracuse basketball as his team’s orange uniforms. He was as known for the zone defense as Bob Knight was known for the motion offense or Pete Carril was known for the Princeton offense.

“To have the — 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 versus a zone, I get out of that thing so fast.”

As college basketball evolved into a more wide-open game, the Orange stuck steadfastly to the zone, and when their teams were good, they often befuddled opponents in the NCAA Tournament who were not used to seeing it. As a No. 11 seed, Syracuse upset San Diego State and then West Virginia to advance to the round of 16 during the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

It was an especially gratifying run for Boeheim given that his youngest son, Buddy, was the team’s star.

Boeheim also coached his son Jimmy, and when both players exhausted their NCAA eligibility, some fans thought it would be the perfect time for their father to exit, too. 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 don’t quit cause we’re having a bad year,” Boeheim said last year. “I’ll be coaching next year.”

Twice in Boeheim’s career, the NCAA has levied penalties against Syracuse’s men’s basketball program. Once was in the early 1990s, when the program was put on probation for two years for NCAA violations across several 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 occurred 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, although federal authorities dropped their investigation and said there was not enough evidence to support charges. (Boeheim was not accused of 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 men’s Division I ranks in the last 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 following the 2021 season, Krzyzewski and Wright stepped down after last season. Boeheim’s official win total of 1,015 — he had 101 victories 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 won only a single national championship, his teams regularly made the NCAA Tournament and he made 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 following Wednesday’s loss, they are not projected to make it this season (the selections for the NCAA Tournament are scheduled to be unveiled Sunday).

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