By Arnie Leshin
The first time I met Jim Boeheim I was in my junior year at Syracuse University as a runner on the cross country team, and had just experienced my third yearly flop on the ice outside the then-Carrier Dome.
I was rising from the ice when Boeheim was coming out of that huge indoor venue himself. He asked me if I was okay and I told him I’ve become used to it and will head for my nearby apartment to warm up, have some hot chocolate, and check to see how bruised my body was this time.
He said he was a freshman from the suburbs of Syracuse and a basketball player, so he likes to come into the Dome and shoot around. So were the days ages after we were labeled the up on the hill Piety Indians. From there we became the Orangemen until we dropped the men a few years ago.
The next time I saw Boeheim he was playing for the freshmen team, and the next three for the varsity. Didn’t play that much, liked to assist the coaches, and when he graduated the first thing on his mind was to stay right where he was, at the Orange and Blue campus and get hired as co-coach of the freshmen team.
Now the question is how long did he stay, and the answer came after the last second loss to Wake Forest in Wednesday afternoon‘s first round of the Big East tournament.
That’s went he didn’t take long to announce to the media that he was retiring as head coach after 47 years. He said he had announced this previously, and he gave some cryptic comments about his future after the game, but no one was sure he was going to return for a 48th season at this time.
Well, it’s official, he has now become the longest tenured head coach in college basketball. He first arrived at Syracuse as a walk-on player in 1963. He became an assistant coach with the varsity program in 1969, and became head coach in 1976. He is now one of six coaches in the history of Division 1 men’s hoops to win at least 1,000 games.
He exits his lengthy position at the upstate New York school with a career record of 1,105-440, just shy of a .700 winning percentage. He led the program to the national championship in 2003 alongside star freshman Carmelo Anthony. He played in three finals, in five Final Fours. He won 10 Big East regular season titles between 1980 and 2012.
His final season concluded at 17-15 overall and will not make the NCAA tournament. Unless the Orange gets an invite from the National Invitational Tournament, the finale came versus the Deamon Deacons.
He has been an outspoken critic about the changing nature of college basketball, one being where he blasted his Atlantic Coast Conference rivals by accusing them of buying players.
With all this in mind, Boeheim’s retirement sparks the start of a new era up on the hill, especially after losing the man who basically build the team from the ground up and kept the program in headlines across nearly 50 years under the helm.
He turned the men’s team into a perennial competitor, a trademark program, and a nationally-recognized brand. As a true alumni member, I went on to become a sports writer and watching those amazing teams of his from the 2000s and 2010s.
Michael Carter-Willaims, Jeremi Grant, Tyler Ennis, Jonny Flynn, Eric Davenport, Wesley Johnson, C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, Dion Waters, and a laundry list of familiar faces.
That’s not even including the iconic names for guys from Dave Bing, Louis Orr, Pearl Washington, Rafael Addison, Derrick Coleman, Gerry McNamara, and company.
Yes, Cuse was the team, and it shows on the Orange’s final resume under Boeheim.
And in a city like Syracuse with its chilly, snowy, windy winters that struggled to stay afloat in the aftermath of Vietnam, and the end of the traditional boom town that was seen across the Rust Belt in the fifties and sixties, Boeheim kept it as a city in one piece.
Amid all the turmoil, he was the one who remained continuous, and that meant that Syracuse as a community could rally around. Even as college basketball itself has seen astronomical change across the board, at least he kept the team competitive and in the headlines on campus and elsewhere.
Coach Boeheim was wildly successful on the court, but he also had a reputation for ripping his own players when they were thinking of leaving for the National Basketball Association, and he would always get on their cases when they played poorly.
For me, I especially got a kick out of his team last season that included his two sons, Buddy and Jim, Jr. It was Buddy’s third campaign and the third for Jim Jr.
Now the proud father leaves college basketball shortly after Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jay Wright also called it quits.
It’s sure been a long time since I first met him upon flopping on the ice and after he was shooting baskets in the Dome.