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Jim Boehm and Syracuse… There’s Never Been a Relationship Like It in College Athletics

For decades, Rick Pitino used to enjoy a laugh when he told an old story about his old boss and later coaching rival, Jim Boehm.

In the mid-1970s, when a young Pitino was an assistant to a still-young Boehm in Syracuse, they went on a beach vacation with their wives. Somehow the debate started. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

Miami? Maui? Madrid?

Rick settled in San Francisco. Joan Pitino went with New York City. Jim’s first wife, Elaine Boehm, said Paris. Or maybe it was the Caribbean. No one remembers everyone’s exact answers except Jim.

“Syracuse,” said Boehm.

The group roared. wait, are you serious?

“Hawaii is just Syracuse in July,” argued Boehm, somewhat shocked that anyone would question his thinking.

“Well, true story for the most part,” Boehm said years later, when asked about the legendary story. “Rick doesn’t get everything right. But, yes, I said Syracuse. They all left. Literally. They just went to the beach saying, ‘What happened to him?’ ,

Jim Boehm’s relationship with Syracuse dates back to 1962 when he was a freshman walk-on basketball player. His prestigious run at the school came to an end on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

There could be no greater connection in the history of college athletics between a school, let alone a city, and a person than between Jim Boehm and Syracuse, the private college that sits in the often snow-covered, no-frills, central city of the same name. of New York City.

Boehm arrived in 1962 as a freshman walk-on from Lyons, about an hour’s drive west. He was eventually a star on the varsity team and later served as an assistant coach for nearly 47 seasons before becoming head coach in 1976.

On Wednesday, the now 78-year-old finally coached his 1,557th and final game, all while still at Syracuse. This somewhat disappointing season (17–15) was followed by an opening round loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament that would not have included an NCAA tournament bid.

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The university announced a few hours later that former player Adrian Autry would take over, a slightly clumsy retirement/firing that really shouldn’t overshadow a great career.

This is a 60-year relationship with a single school, a period interrupted only by a six-year stint where Boehm played for the Scranton Miners in the old Eastern Professional Basketball League. He still spent the dynasty in Syracuse.

Why wouldn’t he?

“It’s a really great place,” Boehm said. “Winters are tough but it’s basketball season. Then, on April 1st, is when I start thinking about life, (that’s) when the good months begin.

Boehm’s talent in building Syracuse into a powerhouse is undeniable. He led the Orange to 35 NCAA Tournament appearances, five Final Fours and a 2003 national championship behind star freshman Carmelo Anthony.

Boehm’s legacy goes beyond numbers

Boehm is an irritable individual, often clearly afflicted by the incompetence of those around him – usually referees and reporters. He never shied away from a chance to fight, quarrel, dispute or deliver some scathing quote. He never tried to be liked. He never changed. That was Syracuse.

They won 1,116 games, at least if you ignore the fact that the NCAA vacated 101 of those victories as punishment from various rules dust-ups… and always a dust-up with Boehm. was up That too was part of the fun.

The event was iconic, with Syracuse gear worn by country stars up and down the East Coast and bohemians. Lewis Or. Pearl Washington. Sharm Douglas. Billy Owens. Ronnie Sickley. Derrick Coleman. Lawrence Moten. Hakeem Warrick. Carmelo Anthony.

Jim Boehm coached Syracuse to a national championship in 2003.  It was one of five Final Four appearances for the team during his tenure.  (Photo by Craig Jones / Getty Images)

Jim Boehm coached Syracuse to a national championship in 2003. It was one of five Final Four appearances for the team during his tenure. (Photo by Craig Jones / Getty Images)

Boehm was an unlikely player’s coach, strange looks because his men were smooth. He famously kept his rotation short because, he said, after playing backup in a series of blowout games, star Billy Owens pulled him aside.

“Coach,” said Owens. “I didn’t come here to play 30 minutes.”

Boehm said, “I learned about good players a long time ago.” “They want to be in the game.”

Through the years it worked, as more and more talent rolled through the place. This allowed Syracuse to take on all comers, from the rugged days of the legendary Big East to the modern championship-or-bust ethos of the ACC. He had various animosity rivalries with everyone from John Thompson at Georgetown and Lou Karneska at St. John’s to Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of North Carolina.

All along, he stayed at Syracuse year after year, content to try to win in a place where winning was by no means sure or easy.

a syracuse life

Large state schools with large budgets located in large recruiting areas often tried to recruit him only to find Boehm not even willing to take his call. Even the ostentatious interest would have resulted in a richer contract from Syracuse, but Boehm declined to play along.

Boehm once said of the annual salary list, “That’s why I’m one of the lower paid coaches on USA Today.” “If you don’t play that card, you don’t get paid.”

OK, he still made millions, but raised nearly as many for various charities, most notably Coach vs. Cancer.

In 1986, then Ohio State athletic director Rick Bay flew out to Syracuse and forced a meeting with Boehm about coaching the Buckeyes. Bay arrived with what he thought was a winning sales pitch and a big boost.

“It went on for 20 minutes,” Boehm said. “It wasn’t anything against Ohio State. It wasn’t based in Syracuse, New York.

And really, that’s all it’s ever been. A child comes to a school and never wants to leave, never wanting to let his favorite place down.

Whenever he needed motivation to keep working, recruiting, he thought about the 30,000 fans who would be brave enough to walk on a cold, snowy night, literally, to the Carrier Dome, where the stands and court had occupied half the football field.

Jim Boehm (right) coached several stars in the late 1980s, including Billy Owens (left).  (Photo by Rick Stewart / Allsport / Getty Images)

Jim Boehm (right) coached several stars in the late 1980s, including Billy Owens (left). (Photo by Rick Stewart / Allsport / Getty Images)

“The city has embraced our team,” Boehm said Wednesday. “I’m amazed that we’ve been able to attract the fans that we’ve been able to attract.”

Home was home. They knew it. He knew this. And they knew that he knew and appreciated it. The more fans across the country hated him, or didn’t understand him, the more they loved him.

“You can catch trout a mile and a half from my house,” said Boehm. “I can be golfing (at his Onondaga Country Club) in five minutes. I can be at my office in seven minutes. I can walk to any restaurant in town in less than 10 minutes.”

“And I love that. I love that life.

A Syracuse Life.

“I’ve been very fortunate to coach at Syracuse,” Boehm said Wednesday. “A place I love. A place I love living. People keep thinking about it. Maybe it’s a flaw in me, but I’ve lived in Syracuse my whole life and (I) will be there, Hopefully, a long time.

Coaching is over. The rhythm of the game and the win and the season will go with it. He will remain an icon out there because it is nearly impossible to separate the man from the school and the place. It is as long and unique a relationship as college athletics has ever known.

That’s what Jim Boehm always wanted.

“I meant about Syracuse,” he said years ago when discussing a mid-70s vacation with Pitino. “They laughed, but I meant… still have.”

I always will



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