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Jim Boeheim: Great coach, but at what cost?

Dec 18, 2012, 9:22 AM EDT

Eastern Michigan v Syracuse Getty Images

You are going to read plenty of words today deifying Jim Boeheim’s 900 wins and the job that he has done turning a private school buried in lake-effect snow in Upstate New York into one of the nation’s preeminent basketball programs.

And, frankly, the majority of those words are going to be well-deserved.

Boeheim’s consistency with the Orange has been unreal. He’s won more than 20 games in 34 of the 36 seasons he’s been at the helm. He’s made the NCAA tournament 29 times, reaching the title game thrice and winning it all once, on the back of Carmelo Anthony. His career at Syracuse will span the creation and the destruction of the Big East, a conference that he won 15 titles in, ten times finishing atop the regular season standing and five times hoisting the conference tournament trophy. His 900 wins but him behind only Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski on the all-time list, and he’ll pass Knight before the calendar turns to January.

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he’s spent his entire career in the same spot. He enrolled at Syracuse as a walk-on in 1962, eventually becoming team captain on a roster that included Dave Bing. When he began his coaching career in 1969, it was as a grad assistant on the Syracuse bench. He stayed there until he was named head coach in 1976, and as never left. In a day and age where every job is a stepping stone, that’s an incredible feat.

But — there’s always a but — it will be interesting to see how many of the glowing columns you’ll read today mention the arrest record of Boeheim’s players. Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com, in a 661 word column on Boeheim’s 900th win, had all of this to say about it: “what has overshadowed Boeheim’s success recently are the off-court issues surrounding the program and the fact he’s only got one national title to his credit.” And in a way, that’s actually a perfect representation of Boeheim’s attitude towards his players off the court. I’ll let Mike Rosenberg of SI.com explain:

He doesn’t worry too much about what his players do with their free time, how they dress or what they say to the media. He expects them to produce on the basketball court and be good teammates. The rest is not really his problem.

The next time he talks about his players being role models for anybody will be the first time. The Syracuse Post-Standard recently reported that his star point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, admitted shoplifting from a store and paid a $500 fine. Boeheim’s response: “Syracuse police have found nothing to investigate.The mall, the store, is happy and satisfied with the result. Michael is satisfied with the result.” In other words: So what? If players get in trouble, he says: Hey, players get in trouble. When is the next game?

Carter-Williams was caught shop-lifting — reportedly a pair of gloves and a bathrobe — last Sunday. He started and played 38 minutes on Saturday against Canisius, the Orange’s next game. Last season, Fab Melo was arrested for fourth-degree criminal mischief after an ugly incident involving his then-girlfriend. Melo didn’t miss a game until he was suspended during the season for an academic issue.

There’s more as well. The Georgetown blog Casual Hoya compiled all of the legal issues involving Syracuse players (some of the incidents on that list occurred when their time at Syracuse was over, but what do you expect from a rival?), which includes names like Derrick Coleman, Jonathon Wallace, Todd Burgan and Jonny Flynn.

In a way, Boeheim’s attitude towards his player’s off the court troubles is almost, in a sense, refreshing in its honesty. He’s not there to shape the lives of these young men. He’s not trying to claim that he’s the Mother Theresa of the hardwood. He’s there to do his job. He’s there to win basketball games and, hopefully, shuffle these players off to a long and thriving career as professional basketball players. And, quite frankly, he’s damn good at doing that.

He’s done to the 2-3 zone what Bobby Knight did to motion offense. He’s one of the best ‘ball coaches’ to ever grace our presence. He gives one heckuva press conference, whether he’s ripping the local beat reporters, defending one of his stars or giving his opinion on the availability of automatic weapons in out country.

But if you’re going to paint Jim Boeheim as the Patron Saint of Upstate New York, be sure to spend a couple of brushstrokes highlighting just what he allows to go on in and around his program.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

  1. LPad - Dec 18, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    Didn’t the current Heisman trophy winner get arrested and not suspended? So let’s not act like Boeheim is running a program full of criminals.

  2. jlinatl - Dec 18, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Thanks for a better balanced article than most. I’ve never liked him because of the player issues, the perennial soft OOC schedule and my perception that he is whiny. I do think that OOC schedule should be mentioned as part of any article about his win total.

    That being said, I think he is a great basketball coach, has had some tremendously fun teams to watch, and certainly has had the most watchable zone defense in college basketball.

    I know I wear rose colored glasses but I think that a college coach should take some ownership of shaping a kid.

    • woodstakes - Dec 18, 2012 at 3:25 PM

      Find me a top 10 big time program that has a consistently strong OOC schedule. They all play in Big time conferences, who are they suppose to play. I see big time programs playing week OOC schedules all the time. Once in awhile you see a Duke vs Kentucky or Kansas vs NC but more often than not its a big time school vs some mid major. All big time programs pile up wins pre-conference play. Its no different than what happens in football.

      • woodstakes - Dec 18, 2012 at 3:26 PM

        *weak

  3. drewvt6 - Dec 18, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    THE reason you are seeing all the deification articles today is because media has ridden Boeheim for all his quirks and issues and lack of titles all these years and it’s as if this 900 wins has crept up on people. Suddenly this number is validating. It’s showing, hey maybe even if you’re not the fastest, shiniest, brightest new model, maybe if you just plug away day after day, year after year you can still be considered among the best.

  4. mrlaloosh - Dec 18, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    He’s paid to win games. Period.

  5. rdssc - Dec 18, 2012 at 8:41 PM

    Let’s just hope we see an equal amount of Notre Dame/Brian Kelly articles covering the dead video guy that he made get up on the tower, and rape charges/suicide brushed under the rug by campus police.
    This is college sports the dirtiest business in the US. Nobody runs a clean program, Nobody.

    • bw1980 - Dec 19, 2012 at 2:13 PM

      This is one the more moronic comments I’ve seen posted but it’s not a surprise as everybody who is not a Notre Dame fan needs to find a way to bring them down to the level of some other schools. Clearly you have no idea what happened: nobody made the kid do anything, Brian Kelly didn’t even notice him up there, probably never noticed him anytime, ever. The kid was fearful to get on the lift, tweeted about it but strangely never said anything to any of the coaches. He was a young man in his twenties who was smart enough to qualify for Notre Dame–he needs to be accountable. Declan could’ve approached the coaches and told them he wasn’t getting up in that tower come hell or high water: It’s not as if he was on scholarship as a cameraman.

      Say anything you want as long as you have facts to back it up but know that when you don’t, you come across as an idiot (which you are, most likely).

  6. MyTeamsAllStink - Dec 18, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    Has Bernie Fine called to congratulate him yet?

  7. florida727 - Dec 19, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    There are always going to be two sides to every coin, and for every one person that loves Boeheim, there will certainly be one that hates him.

    You have to give him credit for his longevity. In an era where colleges change coaches every “x” number of years because their teams fail to meet someone’s “expectations”, he’s lasted. I’m not a Syracuse fan, so I don’t follow their program all that closely. If I was to level criticism, it would only be that he’s only won one national championship, and with the talent he’s had, to me that seems “odd”. Couple that with the fact that the only one he did win was due in large part to a freshman (Carmelo) and I think it legitimately raises questions about his ability to coach at that elite level. 34 out of 36 20-win seasons is impressive. 29 NCAA tournament appearances is too. But only 3 Final Fours? Only 1 title? Just like his supporters, his critics have plenty of material to work with.

  8. metroplexfrog - Dec 19, 2012 at 6:17 PM

    Just coach basketball and forget about guns, ok.

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