Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jim Boeheim needs to choose his words more carefully

The instant the words left his mouth, I cringed. I knew Jim Boeheim would rue the day he made those asinine comments.

The Syracuse University basketball coach’s decision to lash out at the men who accused his long-time friend and assistant of sexual molestation is consistent with whom Boeheim is and has always been – a fiercely loyal, competitive, thin-skinned man ruled by emotion who occasionally speaks before he thinks.

As a reporter who’s covered him for 36 years and recently published an unauthorized biography about him, I’ve experienced his kindness and his wrath.

Sometimes, his genuine, unvarnished, shoot-from-the-lip comments have been refreshing and made for great copy and sound bites in an era of phony, sanitized coach-speak.

This was not one of those times.

And now the competitive fire that helped Boeheim become a Hall-of-Fame coach and build Syracuse University into a national college basketball power may ultimately lead to his crash-and-burn.

I understood his initial reaction to a point. He was angry that Bernie Fine, the trusted friend who had been at his side for nearly four decades, was under attack. He wanted to come strongly to his defense. But by labeling Fine’s accusers “liars” and opportunists, he went way too far. His bully behavior embarrassed himself and our alma mater, and, more importantly, showed a total lack of sensitivity to anyone who has been victimized by a pedophile. These types of forceful, public pronouncements inhibit victims from coming forward. They make a horrible problem even worse.

Boeheim’s statement of apology and total acceptance of Fine’s firing by the university Sunday night was a step in the right direction. But with some national columnists and victims’ rights groups calling for his firing, I’m wondering if his act of contrition was a case of too little, too late.

Interestingly, during his initial verbal barrage, Boeheim showed an additional lack of class by telling people he was not Joe Paterno. The reference, of course, was to the deposed Penn State football coach, whose failure to do the right thing in the sexual molestation scandal involving his friend and long-time assistant Jerry Sandusky ultimately led to more boys being victimized. Again, I know what Boeheim was saying. He was attempting to make a point that, unlike Paterno, he had no prior knowledge of Fine’s alleged acts of sexual abuse against former SU ballboys.

But, by attempting to distance himself from Paterno, Boeheim ironically wound up making the connection between the two closer. And, in a cruel twist, he could wind up meeting the same fate as Paterno by having his legacy tarnished by a child abuse scandal brought on by a long-time friend whom he didn’t really know.

While I’m not ready to call for Boeheim’s firing, I do think a suspension might be in order. And, in an effort to show that he truly is sorry for his remarks, I would like to see his charitable foundation throw further support to organizations that deal with the horrors of pedophilia. Shed a light on a problem that for too long has been hidden in the dark. Use lessons learned from a tragedy to avoid future tragedies.

Sadly, we live in an instant information age in which the tendency to rush to judgment has never been greater. There are way too many questions still to be answered in this bizarre scandal. Hard as it may be for some who want instant justice, we should allow this investigation to run its course. We must avoid engaging in witch hunts.

Again, unlike the Penn State case, no one has made any statements or provided evidence that Boeheim had prior knowledge of Fine’s alleged improprieties. If the investigation determines otherwise, then, yes, fire Boeheim immediately and punish him to the full extent of the law.

As I try to sort through this mess, I think about the biography I just wrote about Boeheim. (Yeah, I know. Great timing, huh?) In my attempt to find out what made him tick and how he made this incredible journey from little, Lyons, N.Y. to the upper echelon of college basketball, I discovered a very complex man, who, in many respects, is like his domineering father. Theirs was a complicated relationship – at times more a competition than a relationship, really.

But beneath the harsh veneer I also found a caring man, whose charitable acts – both publically and behind the scenes – have been extraordinary. And there is something admirable about the loyalty Boeheim has shown his players, his school, his community and his friends – though, at times, he has been guilty of being loyal to a fault.

This is not, by any means, to excuse Boeheim’s stupid and insensitive comments. But merely to point out that there are many layers to the man – some good, some bad.

As I watch this tragic tale unfold at a place where I received a world-class education and grew immensely as a person, I realize another chapter of the Jim Boeheim story remains to be written.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Opining on Bills, SU hoops and Golisano's interest in the Dodgers

Spraying opinions to all fields:

• To me, Eric Wood was the third most indispensible Buffalo Bill behind only running back Fred Jackson and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (though, Fitzie, certainly has looked quite dispensable these past two games.) Wood was having a Pro Bowl-caliber year, anchoring a constantly-in-flux offensive line with great efficiency. The Bills have managed to weather several injuries this season, but I don’t know if they will be able to endure this loss.

• Wood’s absence means yet another challenge for the versatile Andy Levitre. The unsung hero of this Bills season has been up to the task at left guard and then left tackle this fall. But center is a whole new ballgame, requiring you to be responsible for putting not only yourself, but your four linemates in proper blocking formations. I guess, though, if anybody can do it, Levitre can.

• Went to homecoming at Syracuse University over the weekend and took in a football and basketball doubleheader within the span of about 22 hours. And after witnessing a lackluster effort in a football loss to South Florida Friday night and a decisive basketball victory vs. Fordham Saturday afternoon, I’m reminded that my alma mater continues to be a hoops powerhouse and a grid-iron pretender. The 2011 Orange football season mirrors the current Bills campaign. After promising starts, both teams are in a downward spiral. It appears that there won’t be a post-season in either club’s near future.

• Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano apparently is bidding to become the Mariano Rivera of sports franchises. He saved the Buffalo Sabres and now wants to do the same with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Just about everything he touches turns to gold, so if I’m a Dodgers fan who’s suffered through the Frank McCourt divorce debacle, I’d be rooting for Tom to spearhead a revival. I do wonder what this means for the future of the Bills in Buffalo, since Golisano has said he would be willing to looking into ownership if it was a case of keeping the team in western New York.

• Jim Boeheim has no choice but to ditch that seven-man rotation in favor of a 9- or 10-man rotation. The Orange men are that deep. "We're like Noah's Ark,'' said forward Kris Joseph. "We've got two of everything."

* Some are wondering who will be the go-to guy with a tight game on the line. I think sophomore guard Dion Waiters might be emerging as that guy.

• Hey Bills fans, it could be worse. You could be an Eagles fan. The dream team that too many had winning the Super Bowl is now a nightmarish 3-6 and going nowhere fast.

• Bill Belichick is a superb coach, but when it comes time for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame he’d be wise to choose Tom Brady as his presenter. Belichick’s record with Brady is 117-35. Without Tom Terrific, it’s 66-68.

• Shameless plug: I’ll be signing copies of my new book, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, Friday night at 7 at the Greece Barnes & Noble. The signing will be preceded by a talk and Q-and-A, so please stop by and get an early holiday gift for yourself or that SU hoops fan in your life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State's next steps and catching up with Scott Norwood

So, if I’m running Penn State University in the aftermath of this unfathomable scandal, here’s what I would do.

I would take all the profits realized from Saturday’s home game against Nebraska and create a fund for those boys who were allegedly molested by Jerry Sandusky.
Furthermore, I would endow a child abuse studies program at the university. I also would hold seminars on campus to discuss the failures of Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary and other officials to do the right and moral thing.

Students need to get over their shock and anger and they need to realize that JoePa isn’t coming back, nor does he deserve to.

There has been enough deception and obfuscation in this sordid mess. It’s time for the school to be at the forefront of addressing the issue and to be honest and truthful. This is what institutions of higher education are supposed to do. These steps would certainly aid the healing process.


It was heart-warming to see Scott Norwood finally return to Ralph Wilson Stadium and receive a rousing ovation. The kicker who will forever bear the burden of Wide Right has handled his link to sports infamy with remarkable class and grace. I did a column for Bills Digest about Scott this week, and he appears to have come to grips with the missed kick that sadly has defined his career. He says he has accepted ownership of Wide Right and has put it into perspective. It is part of his legacy, just as all those game-winning kicks are. And that miss, though the most visible play in that Super Bowl XXV loss to the Giants, was merely one of numerous blown opportunities by the Bills that memorable evening in Tampa. Had they tackled better and executed better on offense, it never would have come down to a last-second 47-yard field goal.


If you are going to be on the Syracuse University campus tomorrow from 2-3:30, please stop by the bookstore and say “hello.” I’ll be signing copies of my newly published biography, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story. I’ll have more about the book next week in this cyberspace. I have several other signings scheduled in the Syracuse and Rochester areas that I’ll let you know about.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nittany Lions were right to jettison Paterno

Penn State’s board of trustees finally got it right. They finally did the right thing by firing Joe Paterno and the school’s president. There was no other choice.

JoePa’s inaction, along the inaction of other school officials during this sordid episode in which innocent children were allegedly violated by a monster named Jerry Sandusky, was inexcusable.

I still can’t fathom why Mike McQueary, then a grad assistant and now a full-time Penn State coach, didn’t come to the rescue of that 10-year-old boy and immediately call the police.

I still can’t fathom how Paterno and other school officials didn’t do the right and moral thing after this incident.

Even more incomprehensible is how these “molders of young men” allowed Sandusky to remain on campus and continue to be in situations where he interacted with children.

As recently as two years ago he was still running overnight football camps. Hello!!!! Anybody home, here!!!!! You have an alleged pedophile and you are pairing him with kids.

Some have bemoaned how sad it is to see JoePa’s laudatory 46-year coaching career come to such an ignominious end. Yes, it is sad – sad that this football coach who had graduated the vast majority of his players and who attempted to instill in them a solid moral compass failed to follow his own moral compass and do the right thing.

Had the pontificating Paterno practiced what he preached, at least eight other boys might not have had their lives ruined.

That is saddest thing of all, the true tragedy in Happy Valley.


Having been a foolish and immature college student many, many years ago, I’m trying to cut the protesting Penn State students some slack. I understand how raw their emotions must be because this scandal cuts to the marrow of an institution they love. I get that completely. They want to be true to their school and the coach who was the face of it.

But riotous behavior never solved anything. Ironically, these destructive shows of support are only making Paterno feel worse.