Jim Boeheim took recent criticisms personally, and then made it personal. There’s no outlet in the Syracuse media that applauds Boeheim’s service to the university more than The Fizz. Our nickname for him, “The Per’fesser,” is a tip of the cap to his legendary tenure as Dean of the Big East coaching fraternity and methodical, studious approach to 850 wins. But last night after his team’s victory over West Virginia, The Per’fesser stood at the front of the class and made it personal with his students. That’s hard to defend.
Boeheim repeatedly went after the Post-Standard’s Mike Waters and Donna Ditota, apparently for their game note that after Louisville’s win this weekend, Rick Pitino had beaten Boeheim seven straight.
“People thought we would win 22-23 games. I think that’s what the fearless forecasters predicted. Is that where you were Donna? Someplace in that neighborhood. Oh, really more? Mike, is that what it was? Oh, you don’t remember? How convenient. Never ceases to amaze me.”
It didn’t stop there. When asked whether Cardinals media would discuss such a streak if Boeheim had knocked off Pitino seven straight, The Per’fesser went back after the P-S.
“Is John Beilein a pretty good coach? What’s his record against me Donna?”
“Then you don’t know you’re business.”
“Why would I know that? When was the last time you played a John Beilein team?”
“This year. Mike, do you know?”
“I don’t think it’s ever happened.”
“You don’t think. You’re right. You’re right. You’re right. That’s the way they work here. They think that’s cute.”
In defense of Jim, Ditota needs to know former Big East foe John Beilein coaches Michigan, which Syracuse obviously beat earlier this season. That’s a pretty large oversight by a beat writer for the team. If Boeheim can point to any moment in defense of his actions last night, that would be a good place to start.
Boeheim’s overall point is also a salient one. Because Syracuse basketball is King of CNY and every game in the nation’s most grueling conference feels like a death match, we assign an inordinate importance to one loss or a bad stretch. Seven-game losing streak to Louisville? Fold the tents, Boeheim can no longer coach. The heat lamp on Orange hoops runs so hot, we often lose sight of the bigger picture.
But by going on the offensive and specifically putting Ditota and Waters in the crosshairs, he engaged in what he was supposedly criticizing: making it personal. Does Jim have the right to be upset that Louisville vs. Syracuse becomes Pitino vs. Boeheim? That every loss in this series is interpreted as Pitino is better at his job than Boeheim is his? Absolutely.
But Boeheim can get the point across without belittling and attacking the writers in a public setting. Had Syracuse lost to West Virginia would Boeheim have still used the postgame forum to highlight how “unfair” the criticism was? Isn’t this a moment where a Hall of Fame coach with 35 years under his belt addresses it in private with long-time writers of the team? And undoubtedly, Louisville dominance over the Orange is an overwhelming and legitimate storyline to this season and Boeheim’s recent tenure.
Boeheim criticizing the media for overreacting is as old as the Carrier Dome’s urinals. That happens all the time. But singling out someone like Waters, who is as respected as anyone in the profession and rarely even wades too deeply into the critical side of the pool, seems petty. Is this the time, place or fashion to go after him like a doberman?
Maybe Pitino’s success against him eats Boeheim alive, and this is just the pot boiling over. Maybe Boeheim is kicking the hornet’s nest to make himself the story and deflect criticism from his underachieving team. But maybe he just wants to play the bully because he can. In which case, even The Fizz would have a hard time giving The Per’fesser a pass.