All things considered, Jim Boeheim’s Tuesday wasn’t all bad. Until the questions started.
Roughly 48 hours after longtime Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine was fired when a third sexual-abuse allegation surfaced, the Orange coach got a vote of confidence from his boss and watched his team crush Eastern Michigan, 84-48. Added bonus: the home crowd gave him a standing ovation before the game.
But that was before all the post-game press conference. Boeheim gave a few statements and tried to deflect any questions relating to Fine. He downplayed his usual glib manner a bit, but it was still noticeable, from his uneasy smirk to his occasional joke. He didn’t appear completely at ease, but who would given these circumstances? Some of us try to set ourselves at ease by cracking jokes at inappropriate times. It can be a tough habit to break. I can’t completely fauly him there.
Boeheim wasn’t combative, but he wasn’t apologetic, either. He was just trying to play defense in front of people who wanted to know what he knew about Fine, Fine’s past and the allegations that threaten to envelop Syracuse into something beyond basketball.
“I’m saddened in many ways by what’s unfolding,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a time where we can talk and learn what’s happened. There’s an important investigation going on, which I fully support. And I can’t add anything else to it by speaking to that now.”
He probably needed to, if nothing else to give the appearance that he’s not Joe Paterno and out of touch of the increasing likelihood that this whole thing’s only going to get messier.
Part of the Boeheim’s problem relates to his initial comments vigorously defending Fine when the first accusations emerged two weeks ago. He apologized for that when more details popped up over the weekend that prefaced Fine’s firing.
But he didn’t leave it at that Tuesday.
“I supported a friend,” he said. “That’s what I did. You know them 48 years, you work with him for 36, you went to school with him, I think you owe an allegiance and a debt of gratitude for what he did for the program. That’s what my reaction was. So be it.”
That’s easy to understand. Most of us feel that way about our friends. But Boeheim surely understands nothing in this whole mess is fair. Until things become somewhat clearer, he can’t afford to be anything except contrite.
Some think Boeheim should be held accountable because this happened during his tenure. That’s where the press conference became more measure and deliberate. This relates to his legacy and his reputation.
“I do my job. I do my job. What happened on my watch, we will see. We don’t know what’s happened on my watch right now,” he said. “There are no charges, no indictments. There is no grand jury. There is no action being taken. When the investigation is done, we will see what’s happened on my watch.”
Boeheim says he’s never been worried about his job status. He downplayed his importance to the university – “I have zero say in who’s hired, fired, assigned, whatever you wanna say” – and tried to move on as best he could.
But this isn’t going away anytime soon. His team’s ranked No. 4, is a Final Four contender and could be the best in the Big East. None of that will matter for a while. Maybe not all season.
And that’s gonna make for a lot of long days for Boeheim. If he’s lucky, long days will be the least of his problems.
- Syracuse rolls, but all the focus is one Fine
- US attorney now leading Fine sexual probe
- Firing Boeheim is unthinkable … or is it?
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