A dour Jim Boeheim is nothing new. The legendary Syracuse coach often seems less than thrilled with his postgame media responsibilities; his pressers can fluctuate from "wow, I really don't want to be here" apathy to "OK, you guys want to go there, let's GO THERE" annoyance. Of course that's not always the case, but it isn't an unusual occurrence, either. In fact, it's part of what's lovable about Boeheim, if you ask me. I'm here. The microphone's on. Let's get this over with. Harumph. If you've got a soft spot for brilliant cranks -- if your favorite character on "The West Wing" was Toby -- then you probably enjoy Jim Boeheim.
Monday night's postgame presser, on the other hand, was slightly less than lovable. Boeheim was less than thrilled with some Syracuse media mentioning his seven-game losing streak to Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals, and he responded with the sort of angry rant that gets you noticed on national college hoops blogs a day later.
And yes, fortunately, there's video (hat tip: Card Chronicle's Mike Rutherford). Forward to the three-minute mark, where Boeheim segues into his point -- that you shouldn't judge people (read: him) based on small sample sizes -- with a story about Larry Bird. It only gets better from there.
There are about five or six choice quotes here. Some of my favorites include:
On the doom-and-gloom surrounding Syracuse's recent performances: “When we lose a couple, we’re not playing right. People think the season’s over. The season’s over when we play 18 games in the league. We have four more games left by that count. People start talking about the end of the world around here when it starts raining. It rains a lot here. I think we need to keep perspective a little bit.”
On his record against Rick Pitino: “There are some coaches in the hall of fame that I’ve beat 80 percent of the time. And you’re going to look at a couple of coaches that beat me? I’ve coached against Rick Pitino when he was at Providence five times and once at Kentucky where we were 6-0 against them. One of his teams went to the Final Four, we beat them three times. So now we’re all the sudden going to put in the paper that I’ve lost six straight to Rick Pitino? Why don’t we put that I beat him six straight? Go ahead. That’s really good. Why don’t you keep doing that? That’s really good. I appreciate that.”
To a reporter who asked if Boeheim felt he'd been treated unfairly: “I don’t think it’s fair to take a snapshot. You write, what, a 100 articles a year for the paper? One-hundred-fifty. Two hundred. Someone looks at six or seven of them and says, this is bad. Is that a good judgment of your career? No. I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s how you judge people, or coaches or players. I don’t think that’s what you do. But that’s the way it’s done around here. Doesn’t mean I’m going to like it. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to stand up here and let it go. Because when I let things go like that, it will be time for me to leave.”
On whether Boeheim takes "criticism" personally (hint: he does): “You want to talk about personal? Yeah, it’s personal. When people write and say things about me it’s personal to me. Always will be.”
What sparked all this anger? Boeheim appears to be upset about this piece from Syracuse Post-Standard beat reporter Donna Ditota, who made note -- rather innocuously, if you ask me -- of Boeheim's six-game (now seven-game) losing streak to Louisville coach Rick Pitino before Syracuse's loss to Pitino on Saturday. (He also noticeably made mention of the lack of midseason perspective from local media.) The Syracuse coach apparently didn't like that tact, but he didn't mention the piece after Syracuse lost its seventh-straight game to Louisville on Saturday. Instead, he waited until Monday night -- when the 'Cuse beat West Virginia on Big Monday -- to air those grievances.
Boeheim even got into a heated exchange with the Post-Standard beat reporters in the news conference, asking them if they knew his record against former West Virginia coach John Beilein. Things devolved quickly:
"No idea," Ditota said.
"Well, then you don't know your business," Boeheim said.
"Why would I know that?" Ditota responded. "Why would I know John Beilein's record against you? When is the last time you played John Beilein?"
"This year," Boeheim said. "Mike, you know?"
"I don't think he's ever beaten you," Waters said.
"Yeah, you don't think," Boeheim said. "You're right. That's the way they work here. They think that's cute."
I have a feeling Boeheim didn't mean "cute" as a compliment. Just a hunch.
The hidden secret of college hoops beat reporting is that this sort of thing is not all that unusual. It's less common when cameras are in the room, and most back-and-forths of this nature take place behind closed doors, but plenty of coaches see the media room -- especially those mid-week news conferences, which are often attended only by the local beat reporters -- not as a place to enlighten but as yet another fiefdom to rule. They push, prod, cajole, scold, befriend, and rescind. Reporters don't complain when a coach is being rude, or abusive, or kind of a jerk, because fans don't want to hear it, and most of the local market's readers are usually fans. Plus, it's whiny and unprofessional, and reporters pride themselves on their thick skins anyway. (If you can't handle taking crap from a college hoops coach, you probably figured as much out at the student paper in college.)
Anyway, this is not the place for in-depth media criticism. I prefer hoop talk. Which is why I'm only going to say this: Maybe Boeheim should stick to a similar strategy. Clearing this air probably seemed like a good idea at the time -- and there's certainly nothing wrong with calling out the media when deserved -- but a man with 800 wins and a national title to his name doesn't need to lower himself to petty media quibbles. Boeheim is bigger, and better, than this.