More than halfway through the season, the national Coach of the Year is Jim Boeheim.
Any idea how weird this is for me? Seven weeks ago I wanted Syracuse to fire Boeheim.
Today I'm calling him the Coach of the Year.
Don't get the wrong idea here. This isn't a backhanded compliment: He's the Coach of the Year, though he should've been thrown out on his ...
No. This isn't that. But it's not an apology, either. Not a correction. What I wrote in November, I stand by in January. I'll stand by it forever. This is not my resolve weakening -- but that's as far as I'll go in that direction today. The last thing I want to do here, today, is hide behind the façade of a positive story to smack Boeheim around some more. If I wanted to pile on, I would pile on. But I don't. So I won't.
Instead, I'll acknowledge the obvious: The head of the Syracuse basketball program, which has been rocked by a scandal whose severity -- and legitimacy -- we're still trying to grasp, is having the best season of any coach in college basketball.
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And not just because his team is having the best season in college basketball, though it is. Syracuse is one of just two undefeated teams left, the other being Murray State, but Murray State has been playing schools I've never heard of, schools named Harris-Stowe and Tennessee Temple, and its strength of schedule is No. 198 in the country. Syracuse's strength of schedule is second, and still Syracuse is undefeated. So Syracuse is having the best season in the country. Pretty clear, right?
Same goes for Boeheim. Best season in the country. Pretty clear, right?
It's not just a basketball issue, though clearly the Orange have excelled at that. Without a likely lottery pick on the roster -- with just three players scoring in double figures, none averaging more than 13.7 ppg -- Syracuse is overachieving. Legends are made in March, not December or January, but Jim Boeheim is off to the best start of his career. And he has been a head coach for 36 years.
And that's just the X's and O's. That's Boeheim going 10-deep and making it work. Drastically cutting the minutes of longtime point guard Scoop Jardine, and making it work. Having no idea where his frontcourt production will come from. Relying on unreliable Fab Melo. And making it work.
All of that would make Boeheim one of the leading candidates, maybe even the leading candidate, for national Coach of the Year entering late January.
But there's more, of course. It's awkward at best, unspeakable at worst, but it's out there. The Orange have been winning every game -- even as more talented teams, like the ones at Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State, have stumbled -- despite a scandal that rocked the program three games into the season.
It was Nov. 17 when longtime assistant Bernie Fine was accused of sexual abuse by a former Syracuse ball boy, and was immediately put on administrative leave by the school. Ten days later a second alleged victim came forward, and a damaging audio tape of a phone call between Fine's wife and one of the victims went public. It looked bad for Bernie Fine. How bad? Syracuse fired him that day.
Boeheim's first reaction was to attack the victims, call them liars, call the whole thing a money grab inspired by the child-abuse scandal at Penn State. That's what he said back then, so this is what I wrote back then.
So maybe I'm the last person, seeing how I called for his job in November, who should be calling Boeheim the leading candidate for Coach of the Year in January. And let's be honest: I could pretend this isn't happening. I don't have to write about college basketball right now. The NFL playoffs are nearing a crescendo, college football recruiting is as ugly as ever, the NBA's abbreviated season is off to a fascinating start and baseball teams are throwing small fortunes at free agents. There's plenty to write about, is my point.
But there's the improbability that Syracuse, after experiencing the worst November in school history, is off to the best 20-game start in school history. It can't be happening, not after the Bernie Fine story broke in November. But here we are. Here Syracuse is, No. 1 in the country, undefeated.
Hard to believe. Awkward to acknowledge.
Impossible to ignore.
Boeheim still has his job ... and I'm not sure he has ever done it better.