syracuse coaches Jim Boehm never wanted a farewell tour of rocking chairs, monogrammed whiskey bottles and tribute videos.
How it ended on Wednesday was far more fitting: an awkward news conference after the loss on an afternoon-tip buzzer-beater in Greensboro, North Carolina, the ACC tournament town Boehm had long mocked. It’s all brazen, like Boheme himself.
A few hours later, the school issued a release that did not contain the word retirement. There were no quotes from Boehm, just awkward platitudes from the suite that hoped his flowery prose could mask uncomfortable realities: Jim Boehm’s 47-year head-coaching career as a player, assistant and head coach at Syracuse. The coach’s nearly 60-year run with basketball didn’t end cleanly. It was never going to happen.
“In Jim’s case, he wasn’t quite sure,” former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN. “When you do something until he has it in place he’s done it – he was never quite sure.
“Was weird the other day. Syracuse University and Syracuse athletics and Syracuse basketball, they should all be at one in announcing this. The fact that there’s any ambiguity is wrong. It’s not right. I hope if that’s — — I Not saying it is, but I hope things get well soon and celebrate it the way it should be.
“It shouldn’t be weird. Not at all.”
Boehm’s exit proved fitting for a complex character focused on winning games at a school he loved unconditionally. He kept things simple, yet remained complex.
There are parts of man that are easy to explain. His loyalty to Syracuse is unmatched; He will be remembered as the most transformative figure in Syracuse University’s more than 150 years of existence. He arrived on campus in 1962 during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, held the head-coaching job during Gerald Ford’s in 1976, and was perhaps the only more recognizable Syracuse alumnus in the country during Joe Biden’s tenure.
“His career is so unique,” Krzyzewski said. “Because it’s not just longevity in a school. It’s longevity in a community. The gym’s impact on that community, along [his wife] Julie, has been immense. It’s an incredibly unique career. You can’t say that to someone.”
Essentially from the age of 18 to 78, Boehm endured at Syracuse. He was the head coach for 35 of the school’s 41 NCAA tournament appearances, 1,015 of its wins, five Final Fours and the 2003 national championship. He helped usher in the Big East’s glory days and watched them fade.
He was the bespectacled constant, squinting through frames that ranged in style from Coke bottle to thin wire winks by decades and generations. From Louis and Bouie to Pearl Washington to Derrick Coleman to John Wallace to Carmelo Anthony to Michael Carter-Williams to Buddy Boehm. From the Manly Field House to the Carrier Dome to the JWA Wireless Dome, Boehm’s sideline snares and incredulously raised arms for officials were as recognizable as any dean, major or campus landmark with the school. Only the forecast for February was more consistent.
“He’s everything for that school,” former Providence coach, Syracuse assistant and now ESPN analyst Tim Welsh said late Wednesday. “There will never be a tenure like this again. Today’s world has changed a lot.”
But the sudden nature of Boehm’s departure suggests deeper complications. Boehm loved Syracuse unconditionally, while maintaining an enduring resentment for most of his tenure, a part of the contradiction he perpetuated.
He attacked the microphone, swore liberally — “not 10 f—ing games” — and turned news-conference anger into an art form. (It goes back to an era when something viral required an antibiotic.) He also countered that caustic side by constantly raising money for cancer research, occasionally coaching his sons and helping hundreds of cancer patients. Shown quietly having a spirited conversation after being beaten up. Prostate cancer in 2001.
They developed a reputation for being aloof, but maintained open practices and locker rooms for decades. He often bashed his beat writers, but always returned calls. He was ripped early on for not maximizing talent, but went on to become part of three USA basketball Olympic gold-medal crews.
Boehm evolved over the years, like every coach, but shockingly remained consistent — the same 2-3 zone for decades, the same practice setup and the paradox of being a consummate consumer of the game who didn’t watch much opponent film.
He also never preached about servant leadership. He never tried to sell a self-help book. Boheme was authentic long before it became a buzzword. He loved coaching and winning basketball games at his alma mater. He put everything into it.
He took over at Syracuse in 1976, taking advantage of Rochester’s open job at the time, with a simple and linear game plan that defined him: just win. Win, and they’ll keep patting you on the back. Don’t get caught up in the fake preacher, coaching caricature that overshadowed the game.
“He never really worried about stuff that didn’t matter,” said Sean Ford, the USA Basketball men’s team director who worked with Boehm for decades. “He was only concerned about the stuff that affected the win and the game.” Boheme’s ethos was summed up in a 2012 interview with the New York Post. He said that in his first game as head coach, against Harvard, he overcoached and the Orange led at halftime. They let players play in the second half, and Syracuse won by 20. He later summed up his coaching essence in the interview: “I’m a competitor. I love winning games. I love basketball, and I love winning games.”
Boehm recruited the best players he could, coached them well and kept winning for the school he loved, the only place he knew. (It’s hard to remember that Syracuse football or lacrosse games were covered without looking in the back row, as if Syracuse athletics doubled as their pastime away from Syracuse basketball.)
Along the way, he watched Syracuse go from an independent to the Big East and now the ACC. He coached 49 NBA players, and his coaching emotional pendulum swung from the heartbreak of Keith Smart’s game-winner for Indiana in the 1987 NCAA title game to the 1996 team that ambushed the Final Four at the Meadowlands, to the 2003 achieved success, which downed Kansas. for the title.
“I hope that whatever is being done, he will be honored, but at the same time he will be a part of that university for as long as he lives,” Krzyzewski said. “It would be a big mistake if it’s not done. A big, big mistake. I spoke to him yesterday. He and I are close and our families are close. It’s a difficult time, even though you already know Be.”
Boehm was criticized early in his tenure for underachieving with talented teams—a loss to 15-seed Richmond in the 1991 NCAA tournament—and praised for Syracuse’s zoning by the end of his career. It was reported that it was troubling opponents in the NCAA tournament. , (Boehm’s last two final fours came as No. 4 and No. 10 seeds.)
It was never right. Along the way, Boehm faced two NCAA investigations (in 1992 and 2015) that led to post-season bans, 2011 saw the dismissal of longtime assistant Bernie Fine amid ugly misconduct allegations, and 2019 saw the Highway But tragically a pedestrian died while driving. He was cleared by the police of any wrongdoing in the accident.)
The second batch of NCAA issues ended in 2015 with the school stating that Boehm needed to retire in three years. Boehm brushed off that suggestion — the school was looking the other way — because he was winning. The game plan worked, until it didn’t.
In the end, what Boehm got was simply not living up to what he had been focused on his entire tenure: winning games. He acknowledged the joys of coaching his sons in 2021-22, even though the Orange go 16-17. This year, with a reorganized roster, Syracuse lost to Colgate and Bryant, and closed the season (17–15) with five losses in six games. Boehm, 78, grumbled about the void and orange pass in the standings as schools buying teams.
The school immediately named former star Adrian Autry, a top assistant since 2011, to replace Boehm. It is a daunting task to live up to the legend who not only set the expectations of the program but also defined the school.
“The ending should be better,” Krzyzewski said. “Maybe we can do it in a week or two. Where everybody knows what his future is. It has to be in Syracuse, so all the fans and everybody knows he’s always going to be a part of . I can tell you it’s helped us and our fans. It’s really helped with the transition. It shows the level of support for the new guy. Adrian is a great choice.”
It is doubtful that Boehm would stray far from the school; Instead of a dream home in the Caribbean, she recently bought a $5 million dream home on Lake Skaneateles, about 20 miles outside the city.
But the ending for Jim Boehm was appropriately imperfect for someone who never wanted more fuss. On his way out of the conference tournament, where he had always been an outsider, Jim Boehm’s final act was a news conference where he did not let the media realize that he had given his retirement speech over the weekend.
His farewell tour came via an awkward news release, the perfect informal ending for a coach who never wired for a long goodbye.