SU coach Jim Boeheim did not stick to his prepared script Tuesday when peppered with questions about the Bernie Fine scandal
SYRACUSE - The drive from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse to my home in Ithaca is approximately one hour and 15 minutes -- give or take a few. That was the amount of time I had to dissect what I witnessed Tuesday night in the Syracuse University men's basketball media room, which is where long-time Orange head coach Jim Boeheim stood behind his usual post-game podium and addressed 70-plus media members after his SU squad routed Eastern Michigan University, 84-48, in front of 19,649 fans.
In one hour and 15 minutes, there was only one conclusion I could settle on: no matter how hard police, media members or Syracuse University investigates the sexual abuse allegations facing former long-time assistant coach Bernie Fine, we will never know the 100-percent truth about what did or did not happen.
What we will know after "everything" is looked into and "all" the facts are handed to us is that Jim Boeheim will always be Jim Boeheim. He proved that during an 18-minute press conference, which featured a bombardment of questions -- which he was not initially expected to give answers to -- about his former friend and long-time co-worker, Fine, who was fired Sunday after the sexual abuse allegations by two former ball boys -- Bobby Davis and Mike Lang -- began to gain more credibility.
"It’s hard to put everything into words,’’ said Boeheim, who probably faced the largest media crowd at the Carrier Dome in his 36-year tenure. "I thought a lot today about different things. I’m saddened in many ways by what’s unfolded. I’m looking forward to a time when we can talk and learn from what has happened. There’s an important investigation going on, which I fully support. I can’t add anything to it by speaking more about that now.’’
Surprisingly, those words, which came from a prepared statement that Boeheim said was written by him and a friend and used as a shield any time a reporter asked about his feelings on Fine, were supposed to be the only ones that addressed the scandal which has been rocking his alma mater for almost two weeks. Not surprisingly -- especially, for those who have followed or covered the program for a long time -- those were not Boeheim's only comments.
"I supported a friend,’’ Boeheim candidly responded when asked about why he so strongly supported Fine when the initial allegations surfaced earlier this month. "That’s what I thought I did. If you’ve known somebody and worked with them for 36 years and known them for 48 years and went to school with them, I think you owe a debt of allegiance and gratitude for what he did for the program. That’s what my reaction was. So be it.’’
That specific Boeheim response, which came during the middle of the press conference, earned him a round of applause from his supporters -- his family and friends -- who were located just behind me. As Boeheim continued to talk, the anxiety of those so close to Boeheim and the SU communications department grew more noticeable. However, Boeheim continued.
"I think there's a misconception: 'well, he's been there 36 years, he runs, he's bigger than the program,'" Boeheim mimicked. "If I was gone today, this program would be fine. This program would do great. If 10 years from now, this program will do great. This is not Jim Boeheim. This is Syracuse University basketball program. It is not about me. It has never been about me."
At about this time, SU's Assistant Director of Athletics Communications Sue Edson and Director of Athletics Pete Moore seemed to look at each other wondering if they should pull the plug on Boeheim, but they didn't. They let the coach continue -- kudos for that.
"If I believe something is right, something that I need to do, I will do it," Boeheim said after being asked a question that targeted his arrogance, which the reporter said could come off as him acting like he's bigger than the school. "If I don't have an opinion, and somebody tells me what to say or do, and I don't have an opinion and I am fine with it. Then, that's fine.
"But (when I say people don't tell me what to do), I am talking more about coaching decisions. Talking more about, who plays, who doesn't play. As for as, if the chancellor of this university calls me and says, 'Jim this is what we're going to do,' that's what we're going to do."
It was official, Boeheim was doing something that not many in the national media -- who are probably more accustomed to hearing a political figure or professional head coach spew out a two-sentence answer to a question not even asked -- were used to. If anybody was going to get their Lt. Daniel Kaffee-A Few Good Men moment in, this would be the time to do it. But, that moment never happened, as Boeheim continued to use his written statement as a shield, which protected him from the scrutiny that he probably and rightfully deserves -- his initial comments targeted at possible sexual abuse victims were ignorant, insensitive and inappropriate. And, let's not forget that FIne used Boeheim's basketball program to earn the trust of his victims.
National media members who came to Syracuse Tuesday looking for answers from the Orange's arrogant, grumpy and insensitive coach got little of what they were searching for.
Local media members who came to the Carrier Dome looking for some normalcy from their hectic week of scandal and water-cooler talk got a victory on the basketball court and another memorable Jim Boeheim post-game press conference.
We have learned two things since this scandal became public. Barring any new damaging information against him, Jim Boeheim will continue to be himself -- a smart, loyal, interestingly stubborn man -- and the coach of the Orange; Most importantly, though, people need to realize that just because Boeheim may keep his job doesn't mean that SU basketball is winning off the court like it is on it. In stories like this, there are no winners.
It shouldn't take a one-in-a-lifetime post-game press conference or an hour and 15 minute drive home to figure that out.