Jim Boeheim enrolled at Syracuse in 1962. Played there until 1966. Started coaching there in 1969. Took over the program as head coach in 1976.
Put simply, he was Syracuse basketball.
The Basketball Hall of Famer’s 47-year tenure as coach at Syracuse came to an awkward end on Wednesday, with the university saying Orange associate head coach and former Syracuse player Adrian Autry has been promoted to the job. The Orange moved quickly, making the announcement less than three hours after Syracuse lost to Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. And if Boeheim knew the announcement was coming, he didn’t let on at what was his final postgame news conference.
“It’s up to the university,” Boeheim said. “They have to make their decision, and it’s up to them.”
The university didn’t wait long before making the decision public, saying in part: “Today, as his 47th season coaching his alma mater comes to an end, so too does his storied career at Syracuse University. Associate Head Coach Adrian Autry ’94, one of Boeheim’s former players and longtime assistant, has been named the program’s next head coach.”
Autry has been on Boeheim’s staff since 2011, and held the title of associate head coach since March 2017.
“There have been very few stronger influential forces in my life than Syracuse University and Jim Boeheim,” Autry said. “They have both played such important roles and without either of them, I am certain I would not have this incredible opportunity before me.”
The 78-year-old Boeheim’s record in his 47 seasons, officially, was 1,015-441. That reflects 101 wins taken away by the NCAA for violations between the 2004-07 and 2010-12 seasons.
Whether the count was 1,015 or 1,116, only now-retired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had more wins than Boeheim at the Division I level. Boeheim led the Orange to the 2003 national title – Carmelo Anthony’s lone season in Syracuse – and saw 46 of his players get taken in NBA drafts. Among them: Anthony, Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Dion Waiters, Billy Owens, Sherman Douglas and Pearl Washington. Boeheim also was a USA Basketball assistant under Krzyzewski on the teams that won Olympic gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
“I’ve been very lucky to be able to coach my college team, to play and then be an assistant coach and then a head coach, never having to leave Syracuse,” Boeheim said in that postgame news conference, one in which he hinted at retirement, then hinted at returning. “It’s a great university.”
He has, in many ways, been the face of that university. Boeheim and his wife Juli, through their family foundation, have raised millions for children’s causes across Central New York. He helped champion what became known as the “Coaches vs. Cancer” phenomenon with the American Cancer Society.
The 2-3 zone defense he used almost exclusively caused opponents fits for decades. His dedication was unwavering; the best examples were how he returned to work earlier than doctors wanted after he was treated for prostate cancer in December 2001 – the team was struggling and needed him, Boeheim said at the time – and how he went to work at 12:01 a.m. on the day his nine-game suspension for NCAA violations was lifted during the 2015-16 season.
“He’s given his heart and soul to that school,” said Washington coach Mike Hopkins, a former Boeheim assistant. “Still surprised they don’t have a statue made of him in the middle of campus. When you think of Syracuse University, you think of Jim Boeheim and you think of the Carrier Dome, and now both of those will be gone, which is very sad.”
The dome still stands, just with a different name. The program will continue, just with a different coach. For the first time since 1976, someone other than Boeheim is now the head coach of the Orange.
“Jim has invested and dedicated the majority of his life to building this program, cultivating generations of student-athletes and representing his alma mater with pride and distinction,” Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a statement distributed by the school.
Boeheim has been synonymous with Syracuse for more than six decades. He was born in the central New York town of Lyons, not far from Syracuse. He enrolled at the school in 1962 as a walk-on, eventually becoming a captain of the then-Orangemen along with Dave Bing.
In 1969, he was hired at Syracuse as a graduate assistant. And on April 3, 1976, he took the program over after Roy Danforth left for Tulane. Boeheim has led the program since; even the court at the dome where Syracuse plays its home games has bore his name since 2002.
“There will never be another Jim Boeheim,” Buddy Boeheim, one of Boeheim’s sons who played for him at Syracuse, tweeted Wednesday. “The greatest coach, father, and mentor I could ever ask for. A man that gave a city, program, and university everything he had his whole life with countless accomplishments. Excited for a lot of golf in our future, love you pops.”
The Orange were 17-15 this season and will miss the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season. That led to criticism, which led to questions about Boeheim’s future, and what the school would ultimately decide.
“It’s an honor to play for Coach Boeheim,” Syracuse’s Benny Williams said after the loss to Wake Forest.
A low point came in November 2011. Bernie Fine, then Syracuse’s associate head coach, was fired after being accused of sexual abuse by two former Syracuse ballboys. Boeheim initially called the ballboys liars out to get money, then apologized for being insensitive to victims of abuse and took responsibility. Fine was never charged.
Syracuse reached the NCAA Tournament 35 times under Boeheim, went to the Final Four in five of those appearances, won 10 Big East regular-season titles and five more titles in that conference’s tournament.
“I’ve been just so lucky to be able to coach at Syracuse, a place I love, I place I love to live,” Boeheim said. “People keep wondering about that, but maybe that’s a flaw I have. But I’ve lived in Syracuse my whole life, and I’ll live there hopefully a long time into the future. I think it’s a great place.”
Reaction was mixed when word of the coaching change reached the Syracuse campus.
Chris Davis, a freshman, wondered if a coach change will hurt the Orange.
“It’s disappointing to be honest,” Davis said. “It hurts the students who are here. To see him gone is heartbreaking.”
Senior Gracie Carrigan was surprised by the move, saying, “It’s shocking. He had such a great career. You almost thought he’d be here forever, so it’s shocking that it’s actually happening.”
Added freshman Benjamin Perle said: “Obviously, massive shoes to fill. I have faith in coach Autry and the coaching staff.”
Syracuse clearly has faith in Autry as well.
He played in 121 games in his four seasons for Boeheim, then spent more than a decade on the bench with his former coach.
“I have spent much of my time in the game of basketball learning from Jim and am so grateful to him for preparing me to carry on the winning tradition that is Orange Basketball,” Autry said.