Jim Boeheim has been short with his answers in postgame pressers before. For better or worse, it’s something he’s known for. After Virginia finished off its season sweep of Syracuse Monday night, SU’s head man might’ve broken his own record for surliness-to-words ratio.
On his team hitting 11-of-18 free throws: “The free throws really hurt. 3-for-15. I think I mentioned that.” (Incorrectly, it should be noted.)
On Virginia guard Kihei Clark, who scored 12 and had 10 assists: “He’s really good. Okay?”
When pressed again on Clark: “It’s not him, they’re [Virginia] all good.”
Stat gaffes and grumpiness aside, it was Boeheim’s latest interaction with a student reporter that earned the program fresh embarrassment. Pregame reports that Benny Williams was not in attendance in the Dome prompted Boeheim to explain he would address the situation after the game. But postgame, Boeheim attacked a student for their “attitude” when asking that exact question.
Boeheim’s distinct nastiness was a new low, and it may be the weakest the 78-year-old has ever looked. The stunt marked the second time in as many weeks the university was laughed at by Scott Van Pelt on national television. The lesson learned is clear. Whatever you do, don’t follow the example Boeheim has set for the past 40 years. Respect Boeheim, the man who refuses that courtesy to others, or else.
Even if you disregard Boeheim’s other answers in the presser as deliberate choices made in the heat of defeat, the real problem lies with what he said immediately afterward. Boeheim’s shocking dismissal of the Benny question as “typical”, narrow-minded journalism was indefensible.
“That’s [the Benny question] all we have? That’s typical in Syracuse. It is. It is.” (Boeheim postgame, 1/30/23)
Even by Boeheim’s standards, it was too much. His all-around petulance rubbed many the wrong way.
It’s one thing to play middling basketball devoid of adjustments. It’s another to be an abrasive personality. Worse than those two, however, is to stand at the podium provided by your program and look comprehensively ignorant. Boeheim did, not only toward his own team’s failures but toward what Syracuse University stands for.
If Boeheim thinks the questions he gets are too tough, mayonnaise is probably too spicy for his palate. There isn’t another coach in the country afforded more leash and deference from their school and AD to pick on students and growl at media professionals. Boeheim’s resumé is inarguable, but very few coaches are so tone-deaf to consistently demean critics in the middle of two decades of mediocrity. He’s had two Final Fours in the last decade, but it’s been 19 years without a national championship and 10 years without a conference title.
Despite 60 years spent at Syracuse as a player and coach, Boeheim somehow lacks the awareness to understand how his actions reflect on the university. He’s torn down journalists from an array of outlets, but the last two reporters to draw a lashing are SU journalism students. Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications’ reputation is a point of pride for the university. Boeheim is Syracuse’s most visible representative. Instead of gritting his teeth and staying civil, Boeheim disparages students and professionals alike. He simultaneously discourages young professionals and their role models in front of one another. The Newhouse School is one of SU’s proudest attractions, yet Boeheim keeps kicking sand into the faces of future alumni simply because he knows he can.
Boeheim doesn’t do student radio interviews, doesn’t allow journalists into practice, and many alumni recount that they were either afraid of him or have negative stories to tell after they’re gone. Boeheim has gone on record to say he takes media criticism personally. Sadly, Boeheim doesn’t have to change because he’s seemingly insulated by AD John Wildhack, who has a background in sports media and seems unperturbed by Boeheim’s behavior. Wildhack has only publicly supported Boeheim since taking over, while no succession or retirement plan has been announced.
Winning basketball games doesn’t give anyone the license to belittle people. There are 363 Division I men’s college basketball teams, and all of them have head coaches who speak with the media in some capacity. The vast majority of them treat the media with professional courtesy at a bare minimum. There are about 361 coaches out there who could muster more civility, field just as mediocre a team, and most could do it for less than $2.5 million a year. Boeheim can look on the bright side, though – all the professional, diligent coverage of his team will soon be someone else’s nuisance.
Succession plan or not, it seems Boeheim is content to burn 47 years’ worth of bridges on the way out. As usual, who are we to challenge an all-time great? It would be a pity to deny him his need to show us all who he really is.