Jim Boeheim’s tenure reflects a coach whose career almost spanned half a century at Syracuse. From bringing his alma mater a national championship in 2003, to winning the second most games of any college basketball coach, to ushering in and out the Big East Conference (as we knew and loved it) to his patented zone defense and press conferences (both at times equally maddening), and an end of his career that remained controversial until it’s 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 keep surfacing is the coach’s relationship with Syracuse and how synonymous he is with the school’s basketball program. We’ve had a few of those types of coaches retire after recent seasons, with Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams stepping down 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’s 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’s only one coach still active from the bevy of larger-than-life cameos in Blue Chips, the cult classic ‘90s college basketball movie featuring ya boy Nick Nolte, and that’s Rick Pitino, who’s so disgraced that he’s in exile at Iona. The other coaches were Bobby Knight, Lou Campanelli, Jerry Tarkanian, and Boeheim. (Technically, there are two other active coaches who made appearances, Bobby Hurley and Matt Painter, but they were still players and years away from their coaching careers.)
Blue Chips is ripe for a Hollywood reboot, but the script would have to undergo such heavy rewrites to modernize it that I don’t even know who the antagonist is anymore. More importantly, and equally pertinent to this piece: Which coaches are making cameos, and other than John Calipari and Bill Self, would average sports fans be able to name the other two?
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You certainly can’t run Pitino out there. It’s probably Hurley and Painter as a call back to the original, but they would be as much easter eggs as cameos. There was a time when college hoops had the gravitas of its 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 off with the bad so we can finish on a positive note. During his final few years, essentially from 2015 on when he was more crusty critic than compelling coach and threatening anyone who threatened him with retirement, Boeheim was annoyingly outspoken on anything that vexed him (which was a lot of things) and often confrontational with the media. Obviously, being in the media, I’m going to mention that, but Syracuse has produced a number of talented and notable journalists through its J-school, and Boeheim’s crotchetiness wasn’t cute or endearing.
There also was 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 prior accident. He wasn’t charged with a crime, and the family later filed a lawsuit against him in 2020.
Alright, now the good. The 2003 Orangemen team that won the title had one of my favorite runs through a tournament ever. Diaper dandy 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 clutch with a timely block out of his spot in the zone, and Melo going for 20, 10, and 7.
That was the one piece missing from Boeheim’s trophy case, and it was admittedly cool to see him (and his defense) get the vindication he’d been seeking for so long. Speaking of so long, adios, coach.