Men's Basketball

Grossman: Jim Boeheim now has exactly what he wants

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

With Hopkins out of the picture, there was nothing from keeping Boeheim in it.

Jim Boeheim has an untouchable air about him. That’s earned after nearly a half-century of coaching at the same school. He operates his team freely, says what he wants and continues to lead Syracuse even after demonstrating a “lack of institutional control” in the NCAA’s eyes.

But the truth is, Boeheim felt boxed in by an email. Specifically, the 11th paragraph of a campus-wide email sent in the wake of NCAA sanctions on March 18, 2015.

“Coach Boeheim … intends to retire as Head Coach in three years,” the message from Chancellor Kent Syverud said.

Boeheim no longer dictated his exit from the program he built. An email did.

“I did not want to make it public,” Boeheim said of his preplanned retirement on Monday. “I thought that was a mistake … I was overruled.”

Now there’s a new course in place, one that aligns precisely with Boeheim’s desire for secrecy and ambiguity. Mike Hopkins’ hiring as Washington’s next head coach left the Orange without its next head coach. That cornered Director of Athletics John Wildhack into making a decision about Boeheim, slated to yield the head coaching position to Hopkins after next season. Wildhack offered Boeheim a contract extension, the length of which is being kept secret.

So as Boeheim and Wildhack fielded questions at the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center on Monday afternoon, neither offered a new path of succession. The only set plan is for Boeheim to keep coaching as long as his contract allows. No head coach-designates, no emailed retirement plans, no proposals at all. Just the way Boeheim wants.

“I was perfectly content to coach the three years,” Boeheim said. “But now that this change has occurred, I’m happy that it has turned this way.

“I’m pretty excited about what’s going to happen the next two or three years.”

The next few years were supposed to be about Boeheim’s era transitioning into that of Hopkins. Instead, Hopkins is the primary reason the Boeheim era will survive years longer than anyone thought a few days ago.

Syracuse affixed the “head coach-designate” label to Hopkins in June 2015, three months after Boeheim’s retirement plan surfaced. The succession plan was Boeheim’s idea, he said Monday, and it was ideal for Boeheim to hand the head coaching reins to someone he considers to be a son.

But even with a firm course of action already set, Boeheim repeatedly danced around the subject of his retirement. He admitted as much on Monday, saying he liked making jokes about his planned exit.

When Hopkins bolted for the Huskies, it only confirmed the thought in many people’s minds: Hopkins left because Boeheim wouldn’t. Boeheim adamantly refuted that claim on Monday. He wasn’t willing to retire for Syracuse’s sake, not for an email’s sake, but for Hopkins’ sake.

With Hopkins out of the picture, there was nothing from keeping Boeheim in it.

“Ultimately my recommendation was what I thought was in the best interest of the program,” said Wildhack, the man who recommended Boeheim’s contract extension to Syverud and the Board of Trustees. “This is the result of that.”

The real result is flexibility. Boeheim isn’t bound to any terms but his own. He once again has the freedom to change his mind on retirement, something he said has crossed his mind over the last 10 or so years.

Despite that, it didn’t take much to convince the 72-year-old to sign an extended contract. Boeheim’s immediate thought was to continue coaching to maintain continuity in the program, a bubbly phrase that means more about preserving recruits than anything else.

So when Wildhack put the mysterious deal in front of Boeheim, there wasn’t much deliberation needed.

“I didn’t think about it,” Boeheim said. “It was done.”

Working with an athletic director who didn’t experience the ugliness of NCAA sanctions, Boeheim has a new lease on his career. Wildhack said he looked at his decision from a “360-degree perspective,” implying he’s not oblivious to what happened years ago. But at the same time, it didn’t matter.

Boeheim’s going to pilot his program for as long as he wants. That’s how Wildhack felt it should be, and ultimately that’s how Syverud, who authored Boeheim’s previous retirement plan, felt it should be. At the end of a severe shakeup, at least by Syracuse basketball standards, Boeheim succeeds Boeheim.

Said Wildhack: “I believe this is the best outcome.”

So does Jim Boeheim.

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