GREENSBORO, NC – It’s somehow poetic that Jim Boehiem’s final game as coach at Syracuse was played here in Greensboro.

It’s a venue that has come to symbolize Boeheim’s dissatisfaction with the Orange’s move to the ACC and the transition that ultimately led to someone else deciding when it was time to call it a career.

Accustomed to the bright lights and 5-star restaurants of New York during his days in the old Big East, the curmudgeonly coach ruffled some feathers among the ACC’s old guard by infamously saying that there was “no value” to playing the league’s postseason tournament in such a small town.

He reveled in the role of villain as much as he loathed the fact that his school put him in the position of having to do it.

But Boeheim’s dislike for the ACC isn’t the reason his Orange became so sour after joining the league in 2013.

There are far more tangible reasons. At least 1 of which wasn’t entirely in his control.

Just after the conclusion of Syracuse’s 2nd season in the league, Boeheim was hit with a 9-game suspension after an NCAA investigation ruled that several of his players were ineligible over the course of multiple seasons. 

Worse than the benching, the sanctions also included the vacating of 101 wins and the loss of 12 scholarships over a 4-year period. Even though the scholarship reduction was eventually lessened to 8 upon appeal, it still had a negative effect on the team’s performance and on Boeheim’s ability to attract top talent moving forward.

“Losing scholarships is never a good thing,” Boeheim said in 2022. “You need guys. We may only play 8 or 9 guys, but we usually have 12 or 13 and try to figure out who. It’s a guessing game in recruiting.”

Although Boeheim got Syracuse to his 5th Final Four in 2016 and was still able to sign talented players, including current team members Judah Mintz and Jesse Edwards, the depth and quality of his roster was never the same.

Questions about his age and possible retirement also didn’t help, even after he agreed to a contract extension and his designated coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins left for Washington in 2017.

But as much as the sanctions and the whispers hurt, they only served to speed up a process that had already been set into motion by the Orange’s entry into the ACC.

Boeheim’s success, one that made him the 2nd-winningest coach in NCAA history behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski with 1,015 official victories, was built on the foundation of a physical matchup zone defense.

It was perfect for the hand-to-hand combat that was the trademark of the old Big East, a league in which you had to score and defend in the paint in order to win. 

The ACC, however, is a completely different animal.

The games are played differently, with much more of an emphasis on perimeter play. More importantly, they’re officiated differently.

It’s a lesson Boeheim learned in the closing seconds of his 1st league visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

With 10.4 seconds remaining and the Orange trailing by 2, CJ Fair was called for an offensive foul as he drove the baseline for what would have been the tying basket. Boeheim was so enraged by the call that he literally flew out of his suit jacket as he flailed his arms in protest.

Boeheim was ejected, Duke won, and the video of his tirade became a social media meme.

Welcome to the ACC. And that was only the beginning of the end. 

After starting that 2013-14 season with 25 straight victories and 12-0 in the ACC, Syracuse went 2-4 in the conference the rest of the way before losing to NC State in the quarterfinals of its 1st ACC Tournament.

The Orange still ended up 2nd in the league behind Virginia that season. But they haven’t finished higher than a tie for 6th since. Their ACC record over Boeheim’s final 9 seasons is a middling 84-70, including a 10-10 mark in 2022-23. Boeheim also finished with a 5-8 record in the ACC Tournament.

It can be argued that it only took the rest of the ACC 1 season to adjust to the Syracuse vaunted 2-3 zone and find ways to attack it and beat it. It can also be argued that Boeheim’s reluctance to deviate from the game plan, even only for spurts, also contributed to the Orange’s regression.

But the fact is, the game of basketball has changed over the past decade.

And not just in the ACC.

Seven-footers now routinely step out onto the perimeter to shoot 3-pointers. Mid-range jumpers and back-to-the-basket post-ups have become as outdated as dial-up internet. A restricted area under the basket and rules changes that allow more freedom of movement have made it much more inviting to attack the rim.

Boeheim’s Hall of Fame buddy Krzyzewski recognized those changes and adjusted accordingly. His final Duke team advanced to the Final Four last March. North Carolina’s Roy Williams and other veteran coaches also adapted and thrived.

Not Boeheim. He continued to coach in 2023 as if it was 2003. 

And that wasn’t even his most egregious act of stubbornness.

Fiercely determined to go out on his own terms, perhaps in hopes of making up those 101 vacated victories and catching Krzyzewski on the wins list, he chose to return this season rather than leaving arm-in-arm with his 2 sons when their eligibility expired.

Bowing out gracefully just wouldn’t have been on brand for a coach whose career may best be remembered for his angry scowls and caustic duels with the media as much as the national championship he won.

It took until now for Syracuse’s administration to finally come to that realization.

A statement, issued by chancellor Kent Syverud about 2 hours after the Orange’s ACC Tournament elimination at the hands of Wake Forest on Wednesday, didn’t mention the word “retirement.” All it said is that Boeheim would be replaced by former point guard and current assistant Adrien Autry moving forward.

The change was clearly negotiated well in advance. It took until Wednesday for it to finally be announced.

Appropriately enough, in Greensboro.