College basketball rankings: Jim Boeheim made his exit from Syracuse more awkward than it should have been


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The fact that I don’t even remember the last time Syracuse was in the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings illustrates that it was time for Jim Boeheim to move on. The program he’d built into a national brand in the 1980s, and kept at or near the tip-top of the sport for roughly three decades, had undeniably slipped in recent years, finishing sixth-or-worse in the ACC in nine straight seasons. Broadly speaking, the Orange had become irrelevant while limping to a 56-56 league record over the past seven years. So everybody knew the day had come for Boeheim to be replaced — but whether it would happen remained a mystery until Wednesday night, when the school announced the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach would not return for a 48th season shortly after a final-second loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament that was followed by an awkward press conference during which Boeheim hinted that he was done as Syracuse’s coach but still couldn’t quite say the words.

It was a perfect ending, really.

Boeheim was never going to exit gracefully with a prepared statement and nothing but gratitude. More likely, he was going to have to be nudged out after consecutive disappointing seasons and a contentious press conference — and that’s exactly what happened. At the age of 78, Boeheim concluded a glorious career leading his alma mater, not with a celebration on campus but with a press release posted to Twitter that didn’t even include a quote from the man who guided Syracuse to five Final Fours and the 2003 national championship. On some level, it’s sad. But Boeheim is literally the only person on Earth who had the power to make this transition go smoothly. Unsurprisingly, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Either way, my experience with legendary careers is that, in time, people rarely focus on the end as much as they take a zoomed-out picture of its totality, and when we someday do that with Boheim, what we’ll see is one of the greatest college coaching careers of all time. Understand, the man Boeheim replaced in 1976 left Syracuse for the same job and more money at Tulane — which is maybe the best way to contrast what Boeheim took over and what he eventually built, by pointing out how today it’s simply unimaginable that somebody would ever leave Syracuse for Tulane.

The reason that’s unimaginable is because of what Boheim built.

His excellence over decades is nearly unmatched.

Did he stay a few years too long? Yeah, probably. But when we’re years removed from this and look back, most won’t remember when it ended or how it ended as much as they’ll remember how a man who was born 57 miles west of Syracuse built Syracuse into one of this nation’s biggest collegiate brands. For that, Jim Arthur Boeheim Jr. will forever have legendary status, and I’m confident he’ll be celebrated more properly on that campus in time, once all feelings connected to an awkward ending dissipate like they typically do.

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