ATLANTA -- Take a good long look at this beady-eyed, whiny, hypersensitive, funny, clever, angry, slouchy, loyal, competitive, cheap, cut-throat, smart and winning college basketball coach, because when he retires -- and that could happen soon -- you'll never have another Jim Boeheim to kick around.
He's in the Final Four for the fourth time, bringing a zone defense that could smother both Jerry Rice and Randy Moss if this were another sport, and a team with enough juice to win it all Monday night. Of course, if Syracuse gets bounced quickly and embarrassingly by Michigan on Saturday, and anything is possible at this stage, Boeheim will hear the mostly imaginary critics pounding inside his head, telling him it's time to take a hike.
That's just how he is. He's one of the few coaches in the country with tenure -- nothing short of kicking the school president's dog will get him fired at Syracuse -- and yet Boeheim doesn't feel universal appreciation. Someone made the mistake recently of asking him about retirement, and only Boeheim would take it as sign that maybe nobody wants him to coach anymore.
"I have no plans on retiring," he said Thursday. "Every once in a while I'll say, `It's not too far away,' and people get excited again."
Actually, the R-word was floated because he is 68, but that's one of the unusual things about Boeheim. He's the youngest 68-year-old you'll ever know. His mind is almost as sharp as his sarcasm. He can tell you the names of everyone who played for him, the scores of every big victory he ever had and exactly what happened in his first practice as freshman walk-on at Syracuse back in 1962.
"Dave Bing jumped on my head," he said, about the Syracuse All-American and current mayor of Detroit, "and I never got a shot off. So I didn't think highly of my chances of being a good player. I told my mother, and she goes, `Well, what about the other players?' That was one of the greatest lines. She also said everything would work out. And she was right. Mothers are even right for the wrong reasons."
So, no, Boeheim can't retire, not now, not next year, not until he absolutely feels he must, because college basketball needs him. College basketball needs this dinosaur as proof that one coach can stay at one school for five decades and live to tell of it. In the nomadic world of college basketball, that's like an NBA lottery pick choosing to stay all four years.
One coach, one school. Boeheim once was so impressed by a young up-and-coming coach at a basketball camp that he gave the kid a job as a Syracuse assistant coach in the '70s. Since then, Rick Pitino has coached six teams on two levels of basketball. Boeheim's still at Syracuse.
"Jim's not retiring," Pitino said. "Jim's been coaching a long time because he's extremely frugal. He's just a cheap guy because money means everything to him and he's going to coach until he's 90 and hoard away every penny he's ever made."
Boeheim does love money. He took one look at the salaries of the Final Four coaches and said, "I think I'm getting underpaid."
One coach, one school. Boeheim always uses the term "lucky" to describe his situation, and that's exactly how he felt when he got the job. At first, Syracuse went on a national search and couldn't find any quality candidates willing to spend Arctic winters in upstate New York in a crumbling arena. (This was before the Carrier Dome.) Finally, the search committee threw up its hands and Boeheim was elevated from assistant, and he thought he just appeared at the gates of hoop heaven.
"I started off at $25,000 a year, and I thought it was great. I never thought about what would happen, and what has happened has been great," he said.
"When I was 31 or 32 I was just hoping to make it to 38 in this job. I was just hoping to make it to the first five years and after that, the first 10. And here I am."
Yes, here he is, 44 years on the Syracuse bench, 37 as head coach, with 920 wins. And one championship.
One coach, one school. About that one championship. That was a blessing because it finally arrived after much tournament heartbreak and plenty of folks loudly wondering why he couldn't win the big one. And after riding Carmelo Anthony to the 2003 title, Boeheim hasn't won another, and so of course he can "hear" the megaphones screaming about him reaching only five Elite Eights and being a one-hit wonder.
"Somebody said you could've won more, and that's OK," said Boeheim, who sounded like it isn't OK. "Very few coaches get to the final and even fewer win it. The biggest problem with any coach is when you have a good team and people think you have an even better team. You don't get to have bad years at Syracuse or some other schools. They expect you to win and when you don't win, then you're too old or something else they come up with."
One coach, one school. Boeheim has had chances to leave Syracuse but never did. He came close to taking the Ohio State job some 20 years ago. But even before then, circumstances fell in his favor and chained him to Syracuse. The school built the Dome, and it became the most effective recruiting tool in the country. Right around that time, the Big East blew up. So did ESPN. Suddenly, Boeheim had a national program and Syracuse was in the conversation of almost every high school All-American. The Dome plus the exposure plus the wins all added up and equaled more money and security for Boeheim. He had no compelling reasons to find greener grass.
"I like where I am, and we've got good facilities, a unique building, we were in a good conference [Big East], we're going to a good conference [ACC]. And I've never had kids complain about Syracuse, even the transfers."
One coach, one school. Named to the Hall of Fame in 2005, Boeheim is closing on 1,000 wins -- some Syracuse watchers believe he could retire once he reaches that milestone -- which puts him in the company of the all-time greats. And yet: Mike Krzyzewski, the most successful Division I coach at 957 wins, coached at two schools. Bob Knight, three schools. Jim Calhoun, two schools. Eddie Sutton, five schools. And so on. Boeheim is one of only three Division I members of the 900 club and the only one to enjoy those wins at one school.
You know when you'll see this again? Never, ever. And coaches and schools will see to that. Coaches, at least the successful ones, chase the paycheck. And schools, at least the successful ones, won't give a coach a few bad seasons. It's a crazy game being played now, all based on money, with no regard to loyalty on either side.
"I don't like the other side of the fence," Boeheim said. "Never have."
One coach, one school. They're still together, Boeheim and Syracuse, back at the Final Four and hoping for another title. And so, here on the final weekend of the college basketball season, he's absolutely thrilled, right?
"I don't know if I love it," he said. "I think it's a great accomplishment to get to the Final Four. The problem is if you don't win, it's heartbreaking for everyone."
The only heartbreak would be seeing Boeheim wave goodbye. What would college basketball do without his loyalty, his longevity, his prehistoric one-man, one-school legacy?
"Probably applaud," he said.
Yeah. For a job well done.