Jim Boeheim, living down to all the perceptions many ACC fans had of the Syracuse coach as a sour-faced, grumpy, upstate New Yorker, barely had a foot into his new conference home before he started taking shots at the ACC.
He most notably disparaged Greensboro as the site of the conference tournament, most recently declared a win against Pittsburgh earlier this month to be a Big East game, forget about ACC, and most memorably compared, unfavorably, the dining options in Clemson to those in Providence.
Im sure theres a couple of Dennys down there, Boeheim said last year. Theyll like me a lot now in Clemson. I like to make friends before I get down there.
He visits the state of North Carolina for the first time as an ACC coach this week, with Syracuse playing at Wake Forest on Wednesday night just ahead of the most anticipated game of Syracuses ACC tenure on Saturday against Duke at the Carrier Dome. At this point, if he isnt interested in making friends among his new neighbors in the ACC, perhaps he just has enough already?
In the Triangle alone, he has some very close friends, and not just his fellow coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams. Doug Pearce, an N.C. State fan who lives in Wake Forest, has played golf with Boeheim, both around Pinehurst and in New York, for almost 20 years. He knows how Boeheim, 69, is perceived in these parts, because he once saw him the same way.
I had an opinion of coach Jim Boeheim, Pearce said. He was very difficult. He was a whiner. You see him on the sidelines, hes got all these gyrations going on against the referees. But we dont see as a public what we see on TV, is really not who they are.
Now, to Pearce, Boeheim is a man of unfailing loyalty to Syracuse and to his friends and family; a father who coaches his sons baseball team in the summer; a one-time, single-digit handicap golfer whose sharp sense of humor makes him an entertaining partner and opponent.
So Pearce wasnt surprised by Boeheims comments about the ACC. It wasnt in Boeheims nature to let go of the Big East easily.
Jim is loyal to that conference hes in. Hes a company guy, Pearce said. I understood he wasnt saying, I dont want to be in the ACC. He was saying, Im happy where Im at.
Many of Boeheims new ACC peers had similar shoulder-shrugging reactions. Krzyzewski calls him his best friend in coaching and insisted Boeheim join all three of his Olympic coaching staffs. Boeheim at one point was one of the few coaches in Williams league on the golf course, and the two have played countless rounds and hands of poker over the years.
Theres a much different Jimmy Boeheim now, even publicly and openly, than there was, Williams said. Sportswriters and even his friends that liked to kid him used to call him a whiner and stuff, and hed make those faces. He has developed a little bit more of a warm touch. You do this thing for such a long time and it wears on you and you either fight battles with everybody or you just try to roll with the punches. And hes done that.
As far as his arrival in the ACC goes, the first impression was made, and theres no undoing it, but maybe the ACC will come around to that perception of Boeheim someday. And maybe Boeheim doesnt care whether anyone does or not.
I dont think unless you got to know him on a personal level you could change your perception of any coach, not just coach Boeheim, Pearce said. I think he even relishes the fact hes perceived that way.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947