Former Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is loving retirement. It doesn't mean he is very far from the game

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — It’s a typical early November day in Syracuse. Gray skies. Light snow has dusted the area, a precursor for the months ahead when when many residents around here look for Syracuse basketball to get them through the winter. The season opener is just days away.

The man sitting behind the desk, special assistant to the athletic director, is totally at ease in a standard-issue, middle manager’s office in the John A. Lally Athletics Complex. He is smiling, cheerful, funny, engaging.

Gone are the decades of scowls, railing against officials, getting in the face of players, snapping at reporters.

Retirement is going just fine, thank you, for Jim Boeheim, who stepped down in March after 47 years of coaching the Orange. The Hall of Famer, who amassed 1,116 wins, five Final Four trips and the 2003 national championship along the way, says he doesn’t miss the job one bit.

“If you’re up 16 hours a day, you’re thinking about your team every minute of those 16 hours, every day, seven days a week, all year long,” said Boeheim, reflecting on a career that saw him transform the program into a national brand. “Your mind is always occupied. People think that’s not the case, but it is. I did that for 47 years. That’s a long time. The time had come.”

Even Boeheim is surprised he hasn’t had pangs about patrolling the sidelines along the court that bears his name inside the JMA Wireless Dome where crowds of 30,000-plus would trudge through slush, ice and snow to see their beloved Orange.

“I thought I might miss it, but I don’t. My wife doesn’t believe me,” Boeheim said, laughing, “but I just don’t miss it at all. The transition’s really been easy.”

Juli Boeheim, his wife of 26 years, agreed and said he has “really unplugged well.”

"I didn’t know what to expect because he’s letting go of everything he’s ever known but I think it’s been really great,” she said. “I keep asking him, ’Are you good? Are you good, especially with the start of the season coming up,' and he keeps on saying, ‘No, I’m great. I’m great.’”

Syracuse had its first losing campaign since 1968-69 two seasons ago, finishing 16-17, and is coming off a 17-15 record last year and consecutive tournament-less campaigns. Fans, mostly sports talk show callers according to Boeheim, grew increasingly impatient over a downturn in the program.

“People say we were down. We went to two Final Fours over the last 10 years. I’m not sure how many programs can say that,” Boeheim pushed back during his interview with The Associated Press.

There were other things to contend with in this modern era of college basketball. All coaches have to mind — or mine — the transfer portal and a roster never feels solid. Athletes can also earn endorsement money now, a potential factor in both recruiting and transfer decisions.

“If I was 40 or 50 years old, I would have adjusted. I wanted to get through coaching my kids (Buddy and Jimmy) and then I promised our six freshmen that I’d coach them,” said Boeheim, who is 78. “But when I got into the middle of the season, I knew it was going to be my last year."

It will surprise no one that Boeheim has thoughts about the transfer portal — “There’s some good because if you’re a bad team you can get better right away,” but it leaves many players “in a worse situation" — and on endorsement money: “Paying players is silly because they’re not employees.”

Perhaps those thoughts will come up during his new gig at ESPN, where he will be doing a combination of in-studio and game analysis.

“We’ll see how it goes. The good news is when you’re 78, if it doesn’t go that well, you just don’t do it anymore, right?” Boeheim chuckled. “I have 50 years’ of experience watching this game, so hopefully people can get something out of that, and the No. 1 thing that Jim Boeheim has is opinions.”

He has done pilates for years and has just taken up weight training. He comes to his office every day when he’s in town. He raises money. He attends meetings, goes to an occasional basketball practice run by new coach Adrian Autry, visits with coaches and recruits. He consults. He has the freedom to travel and recently returned from two weeks in Germany to see Jimmy play as well as to Detroit to watch Buddy play for his G League team. He golfs and goes fishing. He has a new house on Skaneateles Lake to ejoy. Most days, he gets home in time to walk his dog.

For now, Boeheim doesn’t plan to attend Orange games to avoid being a distraction, but he will watch on television. He said he will offer Autry advice if asked. He had one in mind: “Be confident in what you’re doing.”

“People have been wonderful thanking me for what we’ve done. It’s a very, very good feeling," he said. "I came here as a walk-on in 1962 and didn’t know what was going to happen. It turned out better than anybody could have dreamed of and that’s the bottom line.”

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