Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Getting to know Jim Boeheim through the years

My senior year at Syracuse University was Jim Boeheim’s first as head basketball coach of the Orangemen.

None of us students knew much about him at the time, other than that he had been a bespectacled, geeky-looking assistant coach who wore god-awful plaid sports coats and had a name many of us mispronounced.

He was the polar opposite, personality-wise, of his predecessor, Roy Danforth, who was a glib guy who loved interacting with reporters and with us students, particularly the rowdy ones who transformed the Manley Fieldhouse “Zoo’’ into one of America’s true college basketball pits.

That winter of 1976-77, we learned that although Boeheim didn’t look the part, he could flat-out coach. The son of a Lyons, N.Y. undertaker guided that team to a 26-4 record and accumulated 100 victories in his first four years.

After graduating from SU, I would come to know Boeheim in a different light – from the perspective of a reporter and later as a columnist. Unlike Roy, he was not a media darling. In fact, he often treated young reporters – yours truly included – with feelings bordering on contempt. Interviewing him often turned into a competition. We were perceived as the enemy. The most innocuous questions could set him off. Dumb questions (and, heaven knows, I asked a few of those) could result in volcanic eruptions.

As the years progressed, and I matured as a person and a reporter and he matured as a person and a basketball coach, our relationship changed.

My questions became more pointed and he provided thoughtful, insightful responses, instead of rants. I came to appreciate Boeheim’s true brilliance as a coach, program builder and sustainer.

Through his wife, Juli, I began to see the human side of the man. The curmudgeonly wall he had erected to keep the media out began to crumble and I discovered not only a devoted husband and father, but also someone who was remarkably committed to giving back to his school and his community. This mellowing is largely attributable to the impact Juli and their kids have had on him. Undoubtedly, his bout with prostate cancer also changed the way he views life and ramped up even more his zeal to raise millions for “Coaches vs. Cancer.’’

Thirty-two years and 800 victories later, I see a man who hasn’t changed, yet has changed greatly.

He can still be prickly towards the media – especially those poor young reporters who must go through the same rite of passage that I and many others were forced to experience. And his competitive juices still flow like whitewater rapids on game nights. (If you don’t believe me, just ask his players and the referees.)

But I also see a man more comfortable in his own skin.

Like many of my classmates, I sold him short way back when. I got caught up with the cover of the book, rather than the contents.

As the 65-year-old coach continues his journey toward more basketball milestones, SU fans should be grateful he eschewed offers to coach elsewhere through the years and remain true to his school. The university and the Syracuse community are better places because he decided to stay put.


Like my friend and former newspaper colleague, Bob Matthews, I’m baffled why so many non-veterans get Veterans’ Day off, while so many people who served time in the Armed Forces have to work. Why not make it a holiday where only veterans get the day off?


I know it’s only November and a lot of Rochesterians aren’t in the mood for hockey just yet, but you’d think the Amerks' record-tying win streak would have enticed more fans to catch a glimpse of history. Management has gone out and put a great product on the ice. Now, it's up to Rochester's hockey fans to support that product.


It was good to see Marv Levy join the parade of ex-coaches in those entertaining Coor’s beer commercials. But it’s too bad they couldn’t have used some of Marv’s more entertaining sideline rants - the non-profane ones, of course. My all-time favorite game-day Marvism was when he yelled “You over-officious jerk’’ at the referee.


By the way, did you catch Marv shouting “Come on, Todd’’ in that commercial? It obviously was a reference to Bills quarterback bust Todd Collins, who by the way is now 38-years-old and still drawing an NFL paycheck as a backup QB.


Don’t know about you, but my New York State license plates are in good shape. So why am I and millions of other New York drivers with perfectly good plates being required to buy new ones in 2010? Why to raise another $120 million for our dysfunctionally governed state, that’s why.

1 comment:

Max Robertson said...

Boy are you old!!! You remember Boeheims first year? How OLD are you?? Do you write directly from "The Home" or do they let you use the library computers?
Have a great day you sly OLD VETERAN. Better yet...take the day off.