Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has spent the past season alternately bemoaning the forces of realignment that have destroyed his beloved Big East Conference and fencing with reporters questioning whether the 68-year-old coach is committed to leading the Orange into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Those emotions came to a head Saturday night in the Georgia Dome after the Orange lost their national semifinal game to Michigan, 61-56. After his players finished answering questions, the first one to the coach was about when he expected to announce his plans for next season.
Match meet fuse. Boeheim rebuked the reporter from a network television website for asking that question at that particular time after he has discussed his plans repeatedly this week and throughout the season. After a testy exchange, Boeheim finally said, “I've never indicated at any time that I'm not coming back next year. Ever.”
Toward the end of the interview session, Boeheim apologized to the reporter, saying he would have gotten mad at that question from anyone. When it was suggested to him that theories abound that he’ll never coach in the ACC because of his fondness for the old Big East, Boeheim admitted he’d heard that view of his situation many times.
In fact, he said he heard North Carolina coach Roy Williams is among those who have a bet that he’ll be a no-show in the ACC. Forget it, Boeheim said.
“I love the Big East, [and] 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.”
Boeheim was referring to the remaining Big East football schools recently re-branded as the American Athletic Conference. The Big East name stayed with the seven basketball schools that left the old Big East and invited Butler, Xavier and Creighton to join a new Big East.
Of course, former Big East schools Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech previously moved to the ACC. Syracuse will be accompanied by Pitt for the move in the 2013-14 academic year, and Louisville, which advanced to the national title game with a tough win over Wichita State, will follow to the ACC in 2014.
“I should be happy because there's more teams that I know in the ACC,” Boeheim said. “I've always thought that the two best leagues in the country were the ACC and the Big East over the last 34 years.
“I mean, the ACC has absolutely zero input into whether I would not coach next year. 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… Everything in me intends to be back coaching next year.”
As nostalgic as Boeheim might be for the good, old days of the Big East, he said the possibility of an all-Big East national championship game against Louisville and rival coach Rick Pitino was the farthest thing from his mind. He simply was pleased with a team that achieved more than he thought it would and wanted more.
“We wanted to get there,” Boeheim said of Monday’s title game. “These kids have fought unbelievably hard…I just think these guys have had an incredible year. We've got some flaws. We're not a great shooting team. But we've dug in there, hung in there. We've battled, played defense all year long, and really worked to try to get better.
“I told them they won't see that [title game], and they should feel bad because they obviously could have won this game. But what they've accomplished is, I think, incredible. I don't think I've ever been any prouder of a team for where they've come and what they've had to overcome at the end of the year and in this particular game.”