Perhaps if Boeheim had understood the wisdom of that comment back then, he would have chosen a different profession. After all, in coaching, you can win a national championship, go to three Final Fours, win at least 20 games in 34 of 36 seasons and be No. 2 on the all-time wins list and there are still going to be some people who don’t like you or don’t think you can coach.
“I think everyone wants to be liked and respected,” Boeheim said on Friday, shortly after his Syracuse team had practiced in preparation for an attempt at win No. 904 on Sunday at South Florida. “Some care more than others. I was always someone who cared a lot — more than I should have, but I did care. It bothered me when people said I wasn’t a good coach. It took me a long time to realize my guidance counselor was right. I still worry about it sometimes but not nearly as much as in the past.
“I think I’ve reached the point where I know I’m a pretty good coach.”
The numbers say he’s a lot better than pretty good. He is now No. 2 on the all-time wins list, having passed Bob Knight on Wednesday night when No. 7 Syracuse beat Rutgers to raise its record to 13-1 in Boeheim’s 37th season at his alma mater.
In classic Boeheim fashion, he admitted he was proud to have reached the number but, more than anything, was glad to have it behind him and a little disappointed that it took his team 14 games, rather than 13, to get him there. “I would have liked to have had it over a little bit sooner,” he said.
In short: Why couldn’t we have figured out a way to beat Temple last month so we’d be 14-0.
That’s the Eeyore in Boeheim. But underneath the veneer of the glum donkey, he is a man with a sharp wit, a supple mind and a genuine love of basketball that is almost unique among the best coaches.
“That’s something Mike [Krzyzewski] and I talk about a lot — the need to give back,” he said. “Sometimes coaches who’ve had success forget how lucky we all are to have been in the game and around the game and made the money we’ve made. There were a lot of great coaches before us who didn’t make close to the money we make now. There are young coaches coming along who need guidance, need to be helped. There are people who we have the ability to help just because of the platform we have.
“It’s just wrong to only worry about coaching your team. When I hear guys say, ‘My only job is to coach my players,’ my reaction is: ‘No, that’s not right. It’s more than that.’ ”
That might explain why Boeheim walked into his news conference after winning his 900th game a few weeks ago and, after talking briefly about the game and the milestone, turned his focus to gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. “We have to do something,” he said that night. “If people can’t see that, something’s wrong.”