By MARK FRANK
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Syracuse formally introduced new men’s basketball coach Adrian Autry on Friday, but it turned into more of a celebration of Jim Boeheim, the Hall of Fame coach Autry is succeeding.
The practice facility was packed with Syracuse officials and coaches, current and former players, and Otto the Orange, the mascot.
All of them were there to watch the passing of the torch from the 78-year-old Boeheim, who led the program for 47 years and turned it into a national brand, to Autry, who played for Boeheim from 1990-94, became an assistant coach prior to the 2011-12 season and promoted to associate head coach in March 2017.
Autry told the crowd he was committed to the “Orange standard” Boeheim had built, “the history of winning, the history of playing hard and competing for championships.” He added that decisions were yet to be made on his coaching staff, but noted that his teams would be “versatile” on defense as opposed to sticking 100% with Boeheim’s legendary 2-3 zone.
But when Boeheim walked onto the gym’s floor — accompanied by his wife Juli and daughter Jamie — it became apparent this was his day. Boeheim coached his final game Wednesday, a 77-74 buzzer-beater loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Director of Athletics John Wildhack reviewed Boeheim’s myriad accomplishments, numbers he called “extraordinary” — “35 NCAA Tournament appearances, five Final Fours, 2003 national championship, 20 Sweet 16 appearances … enshrinement in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2005.”
Wildhack then introduced Boeheim, who received a 20-second standing ovation and spoke for 11 minutes, interspersing his comments with humor, characteristic defiance and uncharacteristic emotion. Boeheim also got in another shot at the media: “The only reason I got a standing ovation from the press is because they’re standing.”
After coaching sons Buddy and Jimmy in the 2021-2022 season, Boeheim said he wanted one more year and that Wildhack and Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud agreed.
“Obviously, when we hit that stretch where I didn’t coach very good and we didn’t play very good (four straight losses by more than 17 points), I felt this was the time,” Boeheim said.
He said he spoke to Wildhack a week ago to put the wheels in motion for retirement, adding that while there was a plan in place, the details hadn’t been finalized until Thursday. That lack of clarity led to awkward events Wednesday, when Boeheim engaged in a back-and-forth postgame news conference about his future.
Two hours later, the university issued a news release saying that Autry was taking over. The word “retirement” wasn’t used and there was no quote from Boeheim.
“We hadn’t had a chance to meet, me, John and the chancellor,” Boeheim said, noting there’s no friction between him and the administration. “People took that, like they always do, as me not talking or the university not (talking).”
Wildhack concurred Friday, saying: “There are twists and turns to ultimately where you want to get to but we got to the right ending. Coach Boeheim is with us. Coach Autry is the next coach. We executed the plan.”
During Friday’s speech, Boeheim thanked his coaches and players, his family — including his two sons for one of his “most rewarding seasons ever” — and fans who braved upstate New York winters to come to the Carrier Dome in record numbers: “Zero degrees. Minus-10 wind chill. Six feet of snow on the ground. That’s what Syracuse basketball is. It’s not me. It’s not Adrian. It’s the fans. They made our program.”
Boeheim also finally uttered the “r” word many thought they’d never hear: “I’m thrilled to be retired. I’ve felt the best the last two days that I’ve felt in 47 years.”
He also gave an enthusiastic show of support to Autry, whom he’s known since Autry was 16, calling him “a great coach.”
“I think someone said that Adrian should get an older mentor to help him coach,” Boeheim said. “Adrian Autry does not need an older mentor to help him coach. He can coach. He knows how to coach. The program is in good hands.”
Boeheim said he will have a yet-undefined role with the school that he attended as an undergrad — “I wouldn’t know what else to do anyway,” he joked.
“When I picked Syracuse University as a place I wanted to live a long time ago, (coach and friend) Rick Pitino and our wives picked Paris, Bermuda, and California. I picked Syracuse. They all walked away. Guess what? I’m still here. Thank you.”
And he left, to one last standing ovation.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25