There’s a sense of poetic injustice when the career of a coaching legend ends on a loss — a last-second defeat at that.
After being tied at 74 points with 0.5 seconds left in the game, the Syracuse men’s basketball team lost March 8 to ninth-seeded Wake Forest in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Daivien Williamson sunk a three-pointer to secure the 77-74 victory for the Demon Deacons.
The eighth-seeded Orange went 17-15 overall this year. The team snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating this same Wake Forest squad March 4 in the JMA Wireless Dome by a score of 72-63 to finish the regular season.
In front of a home crowd, Syracuse also took the opportunity that night to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Orange’s only national championship. The 2002-2003 team beat Kansas to claim the NCAA crown.
The March 8 loss to Wake Forest not only ended the 2022-2023 season for the Orange. It also brought to a close the storied tenure of head coach Jim Boeheim.
But while a loss isn’t how coaches want to wrap up their careers, they understand that this is part of the game. Boeheim is a fierce competitor, and he knows the risks of walking onto a court with his team.
His players may get the better of their rivals, or they may come up short. There are no guarantees once the toss-up occurs, and we’re sure Boeheim wouldn’t have it any other way. The possibility that his team may lose also brings with it the chance that they’ll be victorious — and this is what defines winners.
Taking over the reins in 1976, Boeheim served as head coach at Syracuse for an astonishing 47 seasons. Over that time, he earned a record of 1,015-441. His record ranks him sixth among men’s basketball coaches with the most wins.
He led the Orange to 10 Big East Conference regular season championships, five Big East tournament championships and 35 NCAA tournament appearances. Under Boeheim, Syracuse made five trips to the Final Four and three appearances in the title match. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.
“I’ve just been so lucky to be able to coach at Syracuse, a place I love, a place I love to live. People keep wondering about that, but maybe that’s a flaw I have,” Boeheim said in a story published March 8 by the Watertown Daily Times. “But I’ve lived in Syracuse my whole life, and I’ll live there hopefully a long time into the future. I think it’s a great place. I think sometimes the negativity comes to the forefront, and that’s life, that’s there. But I’ve just been unbelievably fortunate to keep this job.”
Over the course of his 47 seasons as head coach, Boeheim has influenced many people. Matt Gorman, a 2002 graduate of Watertown High School, played for Syracuse from 2002 to 2007, including for the team’s 2003 NCAA crown.
“It was an illustrious career. The players and I have been keeping in touch, and we’re all just kind of digesting it,” Gorman said in a Times article published Friday. “That’s a long time to be at the helm, and he did an amazing job. He built Syracuse basketball into what it is today, and he took it to where it is currently as a top team in the country. … He was there for 47 years, so his legacy is going to be there forever. The thing about Syracuse basketball is it’s a family, and we’re always going to be there, to think what he provided in our lives and the impact he had on all of our lives.”
NBA standout Carmelo Anthony also played for Boeheim on Syracuse’s 2003 NCAA championship team. He was named the Most Outstanding Player for that NCAA tournament. Anthony posted his thoughts Thursday on Boeheim’s retirement on Twitter: “Legend. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and the game. @therealboeheim -cusefamily”
Boeheim’s son Buddy, who played for his father from 2018 to 2022, also took to Twitter to express his sentiments: “There will never be another Jim Boeheim. The greatest coach, father, and mentor I could ever ask for. A man that gave a city, program, and university everything he had his whole life with countless accomplishments. Excited for a lot of golf in our future, love you pops.”
Boeheim also touched the lives of athletes who went on to excel in other sports.
Before Donovan McNabb became a star in the NFL, he stood out as a quarterback for the Syracuse football team. However, he also played under Boeheim as a walk-on for two seasons. This included the Orange’s appearance in the NCAA championship game in 1996, which Syracuse lost to Kentucky.
When Syracuse earned a trip to the Final Four in 2016, McNabb was asked by Bonnie Bernstein of Campus Insiders, “What did you learn from being exposed to Jim Boeheim?” McNabb’s quip drew laughter: “Sometimes to block him out when he’s talking to you!”
But then McNabb focused on what he absorbed as a member of the Orange basketball team under Boeheim. “Just do what you do. But more importantly, I mean, you learn more about the game as he continues on, if he’s teaching it or the assistant coaches are teaching it. I had the opportunity of being under a great staff; Jim obviously led the staff. But I had great players with me.”
Boeheim began his time with the Syracuse men’s basketball team as a walk-on athlete as a freshman in 1962; he graduated from the school in 1966. After playing for the Scranton Miners of the Eastern Professional Basketball League, he returned to Syracuse in 1969 and worked as an assistant coach. He then became head coach in 1976 and never looked back.
Looking at Boeheim, it’s difficult to believe that he’s 78. This is made more impressive given that he’s a cancer survivor. College basketball seems to have served as the Fountain of Youth for the Orange’s head coach.
Boeheim was treated for prostate cancer in 2001. Following this experience, he began raising money for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. He and his wife, Juli, launched the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation, which helps supports programs for children in Central New York as well as funds cancer research and treatment.
The baton at Syracuse has been passed to Adrian Autry, who possesses exceptional credentials to take over. He played under Boeheim from 1991 to 1994 and has been on the team’s coaching staff since 2011.
Boeheim indicated that he may continue serving the school in some capacity, and this certainly would benefit Syracuse. But whatever he envisions for his future, his legacy has been well established and well earned. We congratulate Boeheim on his successful career and wish him the best in the years ahead.