Jim Boeheim has started his last slate of road games in the Big East.
And it seems to be sending him down memory lane.
After No. 7 Syracuse beat South Florida 55-44 in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, the first conference road game this season for Boeheim's team, he spoke at length about his past, his half-century at the school as a player, student and coach — and how he would have stopped coaching if the Orange were leaving in a heyday for the rapidly changing Big East.
"We were in a good league, and then a great league, and a great league, and pretty good, then it was great, then it was good, then it was great and now it's something different," Boeheim said. "It changes all the time. It's not the same.
"If it was the same and we were leaving, I wouldn't leave. I would have just retired. It's not the same."
It was announced in September 2011 that the Atlantic Coast Conference council of presidents unanimously voted to accept Syracuse and Pittsburgh, two schools that were considered Big East cornerstones. They'll officially move leagues next fall, and Louisville and Notre Dame — in all sports but football — have since been approved for addition to the ACC as well.
Boeheim has long spoken of his affinity for the Big East, the league that was founded in 1979 as a basketball conference and counted Syracuse as a charter member. These days, even someone like Boeheim has trouble figuring out who's coming and going through the Big East in this realignment trend for major conferences.
"It's Houston and SMU and you can't even name all the teams that are going to be there and when they're going to be there," Boeheim said. "It's not the same. The ACC is a very stable league, I think — knock on wood, knock on some president's head. We hope it's stable. But who knows? Nothing's really stable. Things are going to be changing. I'll be fishing someplace and playing golf. But there's many changes yet to come, no question."
Those changes don't include Boeheim looking elsewhere.
He has 904 wins and passed Bob Knight (902) for No. 2 on the men's college basketball all-time victory list last week, trailing only Duke's Mike Krzyzewski — someone whom Boeheim has no designs on catching, since he said Krzyzewski plans to coach forever.
"I feel I have a good job," Boeheim said. "I'm from Central New York. I grew up there. I was a walk-on there. I've been there for 68 years. I've been at Syracuse for 50. I've never seriously considered leaving, ever, at any time. If I knew what I knew about the NBA a couple years ago I might have thought about going to be the NBA, but it's a little bit past my time for that right now."
Not even being around NBA stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade — and former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony — during his stint as an assistant under Krzyzewski with USA Basketball had Boeheim looking to the pro game.
In short, he knows the national team isn't quite the same as the rigors of the pro game.
"It's unbelievable to work with those guys. But it's not like that in the league," Boeheim said. "If I could go work with those guys, I'd sign on for that. They wouldn't even have to pay me that much. But they were so good. The pros, all the myths and everything, we had them five months for five years and we never had a guy late for a practice, meeting, nothing. We never had to sit down and talk to somebody."
There was a certain irony to the timing of Boeheim speaking at length about why he never left Syracuse, given that Doug Marrone — the Orange football coach for the past four seasons — reached an agreement to become the Buffalo Bills' new coach Sunday, according to the three people familiar with the negotiations who spoke to The Associated Press.
Boeheim said his reason for staying put this long was simple.
"Nobody wanted me. I found a place that wanted me so, you know, I stayed there," Boeheim said. "It's sad where we are but you can't look at a football coach or a basketball coach who sees an opportunity that he feels is good for him. If he loses two years in a row, he's going to be fired. So how can you be loyal? They're going to fire you if you don't win. I don't fault coaches for looking."
More than 3,000 Syracuse fans, by Boeheim's estimate, made the trip to Tampa for the game against USF. And of those, plenty surely were those who merely wanted an escape from a tough few weeks of winter in Central New York.
Yes, Syracuse's winter weather can be oft-maligned. In time, it changes. His address does not.
"I like it there. It's a good place," Boeheim said. "Three months, the weather's bad — and we play basketball in them."
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