Jim Boeheim has seen a lot of change in his 38 years on the Syracuse bench. From the expanded NCAA tournament to the advent of 24-hour sports stations that nationally broadcast every game to the creation and dissolution of the old Big East, Boeheim has been the one constant amid some of the most surprising and important developments in college basketball history.
The one thing that hasn't changed? That crippling fear at the bottom of his stomach before every game that says this game might be his last.
The dichotomy between now and in 1976 when Boeheim took over the Syracuse program was just one of numerous topics discussed when the Hall of Fame coach sat down with Rachel Nichols for CNN's Unguarded. The full episode won't air until 10:30 p.m. ET Friday, but in an exclusive clip provided to Bleacher Report, Boeheim tried to properly contextualize his decades-long career.
Taking over a program with just one Final Four berth and a history filled with shaky and losing basketball, Boeheim has built Syracuse into one of the nation's preeminent programs. He's one of a handful of coaches nationwide who ostensibly have tenure—the ability to leave whenever and however he pleases.
For most men on the precipice of their 70th birthday, that would be comforting. To Boeheim it is, at least compared to the paycheck-to-paycheck existence of years past. But the legendary coaches are so because they never give up that competitive spirit, as Boeheim told Nichols:
It's funny, the pressure actually was probably a little bit more back then because you had no money. So if you got fired, you had no money. And I think you always have that fear as a coach. You know, 38 years later I still have that same fear. You know, like, "We gotta win this next game." I feel just as uptight before a game now as I did when I first started.
Coaching in his first season in the ACC, fans on the coast got a good glimpse of that passion first-hand. Never was that more apparent than in Durham, when Boeheim was ejected from Duke's 66-60 win over the Orange in the last minute after arguing an offensive foul call. Boeheim, midway on the court screaming at officials, was so irate that coaches and players both had to pull him a safe distance to avoid an uglier situation.
That was the first ejection of Boeheim's career. And although many criticized Boeheim after the outburst, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was able to keep it in perspective. When asked about Krzyzewski's comments, Boeheim, who served under Coach K for Team USA during the Olympics, indicated he was disappointed in himself.
"Yeah, I mean, that's why he wasn't upset when I [was ejected]," Boeheim said. "I was a little upset that I take away a little bit because it was a great game. But you know, you're emotional, you get—that's what coaches get into."
As for the critics elsewhere, Boeheim didn't have much time for them. He said he had no regret for what happened after the game, in which talking heads on radio stations and newspaper columnists used their opportunity to give him an ACC-style teardown. Inasmuch as he wished the situation never happened, though, Boeheim indicated he wouldn't want to coach any other way.
"It was a close call," Boeheim said. "And those things happen. But you know, you have to get into the game. If you're not into the game like that, then you shouldn't be coaching. It's too—you gotta put everything you got into this game."
Boeheim's 11th-ranked Orange are the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament and are considered a No. 3 seed for the Big Dance by ESPN's Joe Lunardi. Syracuse's first game in Greensboro is Friday, when it takes on either North Carolina State or Miami. A conference tournament win would be the Orange's first since 2006 and Boeheim's sixth overall.
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