Jim Boeheim is in rarefied company, whether his outspoken cadre of critics cares to admit it.
The candid caretaker of Syracuse hoops gained membership into an exclusive club on Monday, one previously occupied by only a pair of coaching immortals. Boeheim joined Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the third head coach in Division-1 history to scale the 900-win plateau, forever linking him to the coaching fraternity’s top guests of honor. Of the three larger-than-life coaches, only Boeheim has notched 900 wins all at the same school.
It shouldn’t take some arbitrary, round number to validate the career of one of college basketball’s most iconic scowls. For the Godfather of Syracuse, whose surliness and scheduling tendencies have invited scores of detractors, however, winning over the public hasn’t come easy.
Acceptance into the 900-win society should mostly quell the unfair criticism directed at Boeheim over the years—both for his personality and coaching idiosyncrasies—providing the final coat of window dressing needed to restore his legacy in a favorable light. Even the staunchest Jim Boeheim critic can no longer deny or refute the magnitude of the coach’s latest milestone.
Boeheim has overseen the most lethal zone defense in the sport today, lived and died by it regardless of the composition of his roster or his opponent’s preferred style of play. He’s reached the Final Four in three separate decades and topped his tournament résumé off with a national championship engineered by underclassmen (one freshman in particular). He’s Coach K’s right-hand man on the U.S. Olympic team—in other words, the primary underling of basketball’s greatest active coach on the sports world’s biggest stage. He was even a founding father of the soon-defunct Big East, which for more than 30 years stood tall as one of the premiere associations in college basketball.
If Dave Bing put Central New York on the basketball map, Boeheim made sure readers knew where to find it. If, true to legend, Cam Henderson first designed and implemented the 2-3 zone in 1914, Boeheim’s variation nearly a century later lent credence to his vision.