National Columnist

Defiant Boeheim not backing down anytime soon

ATLANTA -- Now we watch Boeheim. How can we take our eyes off him? He is feisty, he is fiery, he is fascinating. But is he finished?

Probably not, no. He left himself some wiggle room -- this is not me trying to be a jerk; this is me acknowledging the wiggle room Jim Boeheim very obviously left himself -- but he sounded very much like a coach who would return next season when he met the media late Saturday night, after Syracuse's season-ending loss to Michigan in the Final Four.

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It was an awkward press conference, and up to a point that's my fault. Timing is everything, and my timing was bad. Not because I asked whether he was coming back next season; that question had to be asked, and most people know it. But did it have to be asked first? No, it did not. But when the floor was opened for questions, I raised my hand; there were scores of reporters there and time for maybe 10 questions, and I wanted to make sure somebody asked that question. Because that's the story I was writing. Needed his comments.

When it was time for questions, the NCAA official running the press conference pointed at me. You're first. Your question.

Mine.

Sigh.

Me: When do you think you'll decide, announce, whether or not you're coming back next year, or do you already know?

Boeheim: Why would you ask that question? I expect it from you. I know you. Why ask that question? Are you going to ask John Beilein that question?

Me: Jeez, Jim. We ask 19-year-olds that question, and they handle it better than you are.

Boeheim: You ask a 19-year-old kid if he's going to retire? Really? If you're going to say something smart, at least be smart.

Me: I said be "back next year," I didn't say retire. If you're going to be smart, at least get it right.

Boeheim: I am right.

Me: Are you going to be back next year or not?

Boeheim: I'm not going to answer that question unless you ask every coach that question. Are you going to ask John if he's going to retire or not coming back next year? I've never indicated at any time that I'm not coming back next year ever.

And there it was. And had our interaction ended there, you'd be reading something different than you're reading. What would you be reading? Something stupid, probably. I mean, more stupid than what you're already reading. But it would be visceral and angry and probably a little bit embarrassed, because that was embarrassing. A spat in front of people? Embarrassing.

But it didn't end there. A few minutes later, Boeheim extended an olive branch to me, and I very happily accepted. He said to the room at large, "I don't mean to be personal on anybody. Anybody that asked that question, I would have been upset."

And then he said to me, "I'm sorry. I apologize. It wasn't you."

Not sure exactly what gesture I gave him, because this stuff happened fast, but it was one of appreciation and acknowledgement. All I'm sure about is that I gestured something appreciative at him and yelled, in lieu of the microphone that was no longer in my hands, "Smooch!"

Everyone has a love language. That's mine.

Anyway, back to Boeheim, and to the story you're reading, and to the best answer -- by far -- he has ever given to anyone about whether or not he'll return next season. He gave an incredibly honest answer because I asked an incredibly honest question when the microphone came back to me.

Me: Honestly, my theory with you is you don't want to coach in the ACC because of your Big East loyalty.

Open the floodgates.

Boeheim talked for several minutes, an answer that ran for almost 500 words and started with this nugget -- "I've heard this. Roy Williams has got a bet on it. Somebody else has got a bet on it." -- and eventually had Boeheim doing the following:

  • Vowing that he would have retired had Syracuse been leaving the Big East that he knew and loved, not the bastardized version it has become: "I love the Big East, but if the Big East was the same as it was, or even remotely the same, I would quit because I wouldn't be happy. The Big East is not there at all. In fact, there's more Big East teams in the ACC than there are Big East teams in whatever the conference is, American whatever."
  • Pretty much saying he was sure he would be back next season: "The only reason that I would not coach next year is because I didn't feel I could do a good job or wanted to do it, and I have no feeling at all now that that will be the case. Usually right now I would have that feeling. If I don't have it now, I'm not going to have it in September."
  • Saying he wouldn't be that guy who drags it out: "And I don't want anybody to be thinking, like I don't want to ever say, 'I'll think about it and tell you later.' I'll never do that. I'll never do that. I think that's not the way to do it for the program, and I wouldn't do that."
  • Then backing off all of that, frankly, and giving himself some wiggle room: "Everything in me intends to be back coaching next year. And I always say this at the end. That's probably why people ask me the question: There's always a chance that somebody might think, you know, you get back into coaching, you get in the thing, you just don't feel it. If that happens, you know, I don't want to ever let it be said that I misled anybody. As far as I know, I'm 100 percent coaching next year. You know, that's really kind of where I'm at right now."

He walked off the stage and hugged his wife behind the curtain, away from the cameras waiting to get him alone. I was waiting, too. We spoke for about a minute. It was nice. It was over.

But as I'd waited for Boeheim behind the curtain, a man dressed to the nines had come over.

"I'm the athletics director at Syracuse," Daryl Gross told me, "and I want you to know, he's coming back. No doubt in my mind."

Sounds like it. Yes, it does.

 
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