The final act of Jim Boeheim

Jim Boeheim on retirement, NCAA penalties (3:55)

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim sits down with ESPN's Tommy Tomlinson to discuss the approaching end to his career, his demeanor on the sideline and in news conferences, and the NCAA penalties he and his program are facing. (3:55)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- He watched the game from home. He didn't yell at the screen. He didn't talk much at all.

In the arena, down in Washington, Georgetown fans unveiled a banner showing him in the classic poses of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Instead of speak no evil, the last drawing showed him picking his nose. Underneath the banner was a quote from the NCAA report that put his team on probation, and banned him from coaching that game and eight others: "The head basketball coach failed in his responsibilities to promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program and monitor the activities of those who reported directly and indirectly to him."

On the sideline, the team left an empty chair with his name on it: COACH BOEHEIM.

On the TV, Boeheim watched Syracuse trail by 21 in the second half. The Orange fought back and lost by just seven. He was proud of his team for that, but he couldn't tell the players. He's not allowed. He left the house as soon as it was over. His two sons' high school game had started. Boeheim slipped in and stood by the door. By the time the game ended he was already gone. From the arena where his team played to the gym where his kids played, Jim Boeheim was a ghost.

ON NORMAL GAME days, his routine is always the same. He holes up in the bedroom, watching old movies or "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." If it's a night game, he has soup, grilled cheese, chips and Pepsi. If it's a day game, he doesn't eat. At some point he gets in the shower, which is the cue for Juli, his wife, to lay out his clothes. If it's a big game, she'll pick something snazzy from the tailor who comes over special from Rochester. Most of the time, she puts out what he calls "the uniform" -- gray slacks and a blue blazer. He has been wearing that outfit for decades. It comforts him. Jim Boeheim doesn't like change.

Not changing made him a legend in Syracuse and one of the biggest winners in college basketball history. Not changing also got him sued and suspended and put on probation. This is Boeheim's 40th year as Syracuse head coach, and one of his last. It will probably be his most complicated.

Game days are simpler. On a Tuesday in November, three weeks before the suspension, he puts on the uniform and drives to the Carrier Dome. This is what keeps him around: The games. Not practice or recruiting. The opponent is St. Bonaventure, and the Bonnies come ready. They control the game for 30 minutes. The Syracuse crowd -- more than 21,000 -- starts to fidget. Boeheim spends much of the game in his signature pose on the sideline, arms spread wide: O basketball, why hast thou forsaken me?

But in the last 10 minutes, Boeheim's 2-3 zone stifles the Bonnies. Freshman Tyler Lydon makes two big 3-pointers, and fifth-year senior Trevor Cooney makes three late steals. Syracuse wins by 13. The players sing "Happy Birthday" to Boeheim after the game. He came to town as a freshman walk-on from little Lyons, New York, in 1962. He was 17. Now he's 71. Nearly his entire adult life has been Syracuse basketball.

He finds fault with a couple of questions in the postgame news conference: "I'm here to win," he says in response to a question about playing time. "I don't give a s--- who plays." But it's a passing cloud. He grins as he walks down the back hallway with his oldest son, Jimmy. It was the 968th time Boeheim walked off the floor with a win as the Syracuse head coach.

The NCAA says only 867 of those count.

That's the difference between the second-most wins of all time (behind Duke's Mike Krzyzewski) and sixth place. It's also the difference, in a way, between what Boeheim believes himself to be and what the NCAA says he is.

On Dec. 5, Boeheim started serving his nine-game suspension, which stemmed from the same ruling that put Syracuse on probation for five years and took away those 101 wins. The ruling is based on a new NCAA enforcement model that considers sins of omission as much as sins of commission. Boeheim was punished not for what he did, but for what the NCAA found that he didn't do.

After the ruling in March, Boeheim announced that he's retiring -- but only after three more seasons. Mike Hopkins, Boeheim's handpicked heir and his assistant for the past 20 years, will take his place. Boeheim says he might not stay all three years. NBA Hall of Famer Dave Bing, Boeheim's teammate and roommate at Syracuse, hints that Boeheim has already decided: "His plan is between friends, and that's all I can say."

But that plan is for later. Now, he's not sure what to do with himself. While he's suspended, he can't go to games, can't meet with his coaches, can't talk to his team. He and Juli talked it over. They can't go on vacation because it would look weird to be playing golf in Florida while his team battled in Syracuse. So they're staying home. For 53 years, when Syracuse played basketball, Jim Boeheim was there. For 32 days, until Jan. 6, he won't be.

As he and Juli worked out what to do, he kept coming back to the same question: What does this look like?

It's a framing question, the kind of thing they teach you in leadership class. It helps you get your mind around something big. Like Jim Boeheim, trying to figure out his future. Or maybe the rest of us, trying to figure out Jim Boeheim.

THE KEY WORD is failure.

It appears three times on the first page of the NCAA's report. The big one is at the bottom of the page: the head basketball coach's failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff.

After an eight-year investigation, the NCAA found Syracuse guilty of multiple violations over a 10-year span. Two employees, including the former director of basketball operations, did coursework for a player to keep him eligible. Players who failed drug tests weren't held out of practices and games, despite school policy. A booster paid a total of more than $8,000 to two basketball players (and three football players) for what was supposed to be volunteer work at a YMCA.

Boeheim wasn't accused of being aware of the academic fraud or the booster payments. But three years ago, the NCAA tweaked its bylaws to make "I didn't know" no longer a defense. "An institution's head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all institutional staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach," reads the amended rule, which took effect in October 2012. Coaches can avoid penalties by showing that they monitored their staffs and promoted "an atmosphere of compliance." Boeheim says he monitored. The NCAA (which declined to comment further for this story) says he didn't.

The ruling came down just before the 2015 ACC tournament, the final lick in Boeheim's second-worst season as coach. The Orange finished 18-13 and banned themselves from postseason play. It was the first time they hadn't played in the NCAA or NIT tournaments since 1993 -- the last time Syracuse went on probation.

Syracuse and Boeheim appealed the sanctions. Over the summer, while they were waiting to hear about the appeal, Boeheim said he didn't want to talk about the NCAA. But sitting in his office, he couldn't help himself.

"Every bank has had a teller that's cheated," Boeheim said. "And not one president has ever been fired or sanctioned for it. So it's a dangerous world when you are in trouble because somebody did something who works for you."

He went on.

"I believe there should be some punishment to the program. Directly to me, I really don't buy that, because the rule says, if you monitor your program and something happens, and you've monitored it, you're not going to be punished. Well, they never tell you what monitoring means. They've never told us that, they've never told anybody that. And they have not told me that. So what does that mean? If you don't know what it means, what the hell are you supposed to do?"

He went on.

"I know how many games I've won. I don't worry about it. ... I mean, I'm happy we had the wins. We've had them. We've had them. We've enjoyed them. Can't take them away."

He let go a bitter laugh.

"You can't take away wins. We had them. It's a joke that they take away wins. You don't take away wins. That just doesn't, doesn't even, doesn't resonate with me."

The NCAA's initial ruling suspended Boeheim for the first nine ACC games of the season, which would've begun Dec. 30 against Pitt. But Boeheim complained that SMU coach Larry Brown, whose team went on probation in a similar case this fall, was suspended for nine nonconference games. On Dec. 2, after Syracuse lost to Wisconsin to go to 6-1 on the season, the NCAA notified Boeheim that it was moving up his suspension to Syracuse's next nine games -- six nonconference, plus three ACC.

The NCAA denied Syracuse's appeal on the vacated wins. The NCAA requires schools to go by its count, which means Boeheim -- who went 6-1 this season before the suspension -- officially has 871 wins, instead of 972.

Boeheim has a framed jersey in his office commemorating his 900th win, three years ago.

He's not taking it down.

HE DIDN'T WANT to move to the Carrier Dome. He liked Manley Field House, a 9,500-seat barn where the fans were right on top of you. He didn't want to move to the ACC. He loved the old Big East, where he warred on Monday nights against John Thompson at Georgetown, and Rollie Massimino at Villanova, and Louie Carnesecca at St. John's. It was a compact league, all the teams close together. Now it's 1,200 miles to an ACC game at Florida State. It's not family. It's money.

He's not nostalgic. He likes what he likes and doesn't move off it. Don't get him started on Wegmans, the grocery-store chain that started in Rochester. He goes on about Wegmans for 15 minutes: "The best. Everything is the best. They do only the best." An old teammate, Chuck Richards, was in town a few years ago to visit someone else. He stopped by Wegmans to pick up a few things. There was Boeheim in the aisle, hat pulled low, as if nobody would know who he was.

When Boeheim got to Syracuse in '62, the city was a manufacturing powerhouse. In the '70s and '80s, it all went hollow. General Electric shut down its campus and 20,000 jobs vanished. Carrier -- the name on the Carrier Dome -- lost a takeover battle and shuttered its headquarters. The Syracuse China factory used to ship dishes with the city's name on it all over the world. A company still makes Syracuse China. It just doesn't make it in Syracuse anymore.

The city needed somebody to win at something. It turned out to be Boeheim and basketball. Fans remembered him from his playing days. Syracuse went 2-22 the season before Bing and Boeheim got there. As seniors, in 1965-66, they went 22-6 and made the NCAAs. (Bing was the star, but Boeheim averaged 15 points a game at shooting guard.) Boeheim stuck around as a grad student, then a grad assistant, then an assistant coach. His roots were already sunk deep when he got the head job in 1976. Since then, the Orange have been to the NCAA tournament 31 times, made four Final Fours and won one national title. The city is starting to bounce back, a little, but Syracuse's old touchstones are gone for good. People know the place for two things now: brutal winters and Jim Boeheim.

The city has forgiven his sins, though Boeheim rarely admits they were sins to begin with. The NCAA put Syracuse on two years' probation in '92 after finding, among other violations, that players got Christmas cards with $50 bills inside. Some of the payments were traced to one of Boeheim's best friends, car dealer Bill Rapp Jr. The two men stayed close until Rapp died in 2005.

In 2011, two Syracuse ball boys accused Bernie Fine -- an assistant under Boeheim for 35 years -- of molesting them. It was not long after the Jerry Sandusky case exploded at Penn State. Boeheim reacted with fury -- not at Fine, but at the ball boys. "The Penn State thing came out, and the kid behind this [at Syracuse] is trying to get money," he said at the time. "That's what this is about. Money." Boeheim later apologized for being insensitive to victims of abuse. The ball boys sued Boeheim for slander. After a four-year journey through the courts, the two sides settled for an undisclosed amount in August. (After ESPN ran stories about the ball boys' accusations, Fine sued ESPN for defamation but later dropped the suit. His wife, Laurie, also sued for libel. That case has been in court since 2012. ESPN recently filed new motions to have the case dismissed.)

Fine, who used to live across the street from Boeheim, has always denied the accusations. He was fired but never charged with a crime. Boeheim still defends him. "I believe in what I said," Boeheim said this summer. "I believe him. I absolutely believe him, 100 percent. I just shouldn't have said it. Because then they get a lawsuit and they get money out of it."

Through all of it, the school and the fans have stuck with him. And he has taken less money than most coaches with his track record to stay. His most recent published salary of $2.1 million (in 2013, according to the university's federal tax forms) made him 23rd among college coaches, according to a USA Today survey that year. John Calipari's seven-year deal at Kentucky averages out to $7.5 million a year.

He has a small circle of deeply loyal friends -- fellow coaches, former players, old teammates, guys he knew growing up. The public Boeheim can be an ass: pounding on the refs, eye-rolling at news conferences, freezing a TV interviewer with an eyeless smile that is the opposite of cheer. In private, his friends say, he's warm and charming. He plays Yahtzee with Juli and their three kids. He goes to movies with Elizabeth, his daughter from his first marriage. When he's with friends he finds the best restaurant in town, and he buys the appetizers. "He's a loyal, lovable person," says Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who led Boeheim's 2002-03 team to Syracuse's only national title in basketball. "How can you not like Jim Boeheim?"

His wife begs him to show the rest of the world the side he shows his friends. She wants everyone to see the joy in his eyes when he signs the checks for the foundation the two of them started. He won't let go, not all the way. He's an introvert, better in a small group. And he doesn't see any need to change. The genius of standing pat is that if you do it long enough, it gives you freedom. He doesn't have to be a nice guy in public. He can say the wrong thing at the wrong time. He can get his school in trouble. But in Syracuse, weighed against 53 years and 900-plus wins, the bad side is a bag of feathers.

Boeheim has a regular radio show during the season -- the type of show that gives coaches heartburn all over the country. But no one ever calls Boeheim to complain. He has half a century of goodwill. He built the one monument the city has left.

"We are what we are," he says. "We are what we've done."

You can read that a lot of ways. He doesn't care how you do it.

IT'S MID-AUGUST in Las Vegas, a brick oven outside, but cool and quiet inside the Wynn poker room. Boeheim is a regular when he's in town. Managers look out for him. This time he's here for USA Basketball's minicamp -- the first gathering of the players who will make up next year's Olympic team. Krzyzewski is the head coach, and Boeheim is his top assistant -- the first one Coach K picked when he got the job 10 years ago. "He's a great listener and observer," Krzyzewski says. "I mean, not good, great."

Some of basketball's elites post up down the hallway at the Tower Suite Bar. There's Rich Paul, LeBron's agent; David Griffin, Cleveland's GM; broadcasters Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery; Boeheim's old coaching buddies P.J. Carlesimo and Mike Fratello. Even in this group, Boeheim would earn a prime barstool. But he's playing cards deep into the night instead.

The next night he's back at the table, playing $1-$3 hold 'em. The stranger to Boeheim's left is bleeding $100 bills, going all-in with iffy cards. Boeheim takes some of his money. But otherwise he doesn't play a lot of hands. He's willing to fold solid cards if his read tells him he's beat. "You've got aces," he says on one hand, throwing away his pocket queens after the guy two seats away bets on the flop. (He was right. I had aces.)

Poker is one of the few things that can get Boeheim's mind off basketball. He plays at Turning Stone, less than an hour from Syracuse down I-90. He puts together the big coaches' game every summer on a Nike-sponsored vacation trip.

"I usually end up losing more than I win," he says. "Because I'll play smart for a long time, but the last day or two I'll try to gamble a little bit too much."

He has routines on the road too. The only time he reads a book is on a plane, but he's on so many planes that he finishes 40 or 50 novels a year. They're all mysteries or thrillers -- Daniel Silva, Patricia Cornwell, Lee Child. They have one thing in common. In the end, the good guy wins.

That's fiction. In life, it's not always clear who the good guy is.

In March, just after the NCAA ruling, fans from an opposing high school chanted "Where's the cheater?" at Boeheim's daughter Jamie as she played in a basketball game.

In September, Mike Hopkins' eyes filled with tears as he talked about following Boeheim. "You just want to represent, you know?" he said. "We'll do everything we can to protect it forever. Protect his legacy."

Arrange the facts however you like. He'll retire as one of the winningest coaches of all time. Some of those wins were taken away. He won a national title. His teams were put on probation twice. He built a towering program in a city where most of the towers had crumbled. He failed to monitor, and his university's reputation suffered.

He stayed put, and the world changed around him.

We talked one day this summer in his office, and after a couple of hours, he had to go to a meeting. As he got up from his desk, you could hear basketball sounds from the practice courts below. He went over to the window and looked.

"Hey, that's my son down there," he said.

Jimmy was shooting 3s with a couple of other boys. He's 6-5, a lefty, two inches taller than his dad. He's a high school senior who plans to go to prep school next year and hopes to play Division I ball after that. Maybe in the Ivy League. Boeheim folded his arms and watched. His forehead touched the glass.

Down the hall in Manley Field House, more than half a century ago, another 17-year-old boy shot jumpers, hoping to make a team.

After a minute or so Boeheim pulled back. He had a meeting with the new athletic director. "Don't want to be late for the boss," he said, leaving his office and stepping into the hall.

Each side of the hallway is covered with an enormous panoramic photo. One side is a stock shot of a home game at the Carrier Dome. The other side is special. It's from the 2014 game in which Syracuse beat Duke in overtime in front of 35,446 fans, the largest on-campus crowd in NCAA history.

Boeheim headed down the hall and the silent, screaming fans in the photos cheered for him. You can freeze the moment there if you want, put it on the wall, try to preserve it. But time changes everything. He walked to the hallway's end and through a door and he was gone.