SYRACUSE, New York (Reuters) - Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim said on Tuesday he was not worried about losing his job following allegations that his longtime assistant sexually fondled ball boys working with the team.
“I’ve been here for over 36 years and I have never worried about my job status,” Boeheim said following the Syracuse home game with Eastern Michigan.
Boeheim made the comments during his first press conference since Assistant Coach Bernie Fine was fired on Sunday. Fans gave Boeheim, a college Hall of Fame coach, a standing ovation at the start of the game, won by Syracuse.
Fine, who worked with Boeheim for 35 years, was fired after ESPN aired audio of what it said was a telephone call between Fine’s wife Laurie and an alleged victim in which she appeared to admit the abuse of boys. Boeheim said he had not listened to the tapes of the call aired by ESPN.
Fine has called the accusations against him “patently false in every aspect.”
Three men have accused Fine of sexually abusing them when they were juveniles.
“When the investigation is done, we will find out what happened on my watch,” Boeheim said. Right now, we don’t know. There are no charges or indictments and no action has been taken.”
The Syracuse abuse allegations have been compared to the Penn State scandal, in which an assistant football coach was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15 years period. The Penn State scandal rocked the university and led to the dismissal of the university president and legendary coach Joe Paterno for failure to tell police about the alleged abuse.
Unlike Penn State, no charges have yet been filed against the Syracuse assistant coach, and a grand jury has just begun looking into the accusations. There is no evidence so far that Boeheim knew of the alleged abuse.
But sex abuse support groups have called for Boeheim’s firing saying he must have known about Fine’s alleged behavior.
“This man says he’s been good friends with Bernie Fine for 50 years,” said Charles Bailey, head of the Syracuse chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “You can’t tell me in 50 years, just once you didn’t have an inkling something was going awry.”
The grand jury is investigating accusations that Fine molested a former ball boy, Bobby Davis, 39, and at least one other boy, Davis’s stepbrother Mike Lang, 45, when they were juveniles.
Lang told CNN in an interview aired on Tuesday that Fine touched him inappropriately as a child at least 30-40 times “in my leg and my penis.”
“I told him please don’t do that no more but you couldn’t tell him no,” Lang said. “It was hard to say anything because you think you’re with a God, you know?”
Boeheim had strenuously defended Fine before the assistant was fired, calling the accusers liars and saying that they were out to seek money. He reversed his stance on Sunday, saying he supported the firing of Fine.
“Based on what I knew at that time, I said that because nothing was corroborated,” Boeheim told the press conference, adding that he now considered those comments insensitive because “obviously more facts have come out since then.”
Asked why he supported Fine initially, Boeheim said: “If you know somebody and work with someone for 36 years and knew them for 48 years, you owe them a debt of allegiance and gratitude for what they’ve done for the program. That’s what my reaction was, and so be it,”
Earlier on Tuesday, Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor was asked about the status of Boeheim and she said: “Coach Boeheim is our coach.”
Pittsburgh police said they would also investigate allegations from a third man, Zach Tomaselli, that Fine tried to fondle him in a hotel in 2002.
In a televised interview airing Wednesday, Fine accuser Zach Tomaselli said when he was 13, Fine invited him to a Pittsburgh hotel room, made him watch pornography and fondled him.
Tomaselli, facing unrelated sexual abuse charges of his own in Maine, said he has evidence to support his allegations and that he is willing to take a lie detector test to prove his story. Tomaselli’s father has said his son is lying.
Federal authorities have taken the lead in the investigation of Fine after questions were raised about how vigorously the Syracuse police pursued a tip nine years ago.
Syracuse police on Tuesday issued a statement setting out a timeline of their own knowledge of the accusations against Fine. It showed that Syracuse police chief knew in 2002 that a former team ball boy had accused Fine but never started an investigation or filed a report.
Syracuse Chief of Police Frank Fowler said the decision not to pursue an investigation was made by his predecessor, Chief Dennis DuVal, a former Syracuse basketball player from 1971-1974 who later played for two seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Syracuse fans interviewed at the game on Tuesday said they would give Boeheim the benefit of the doubt.
George Ragonese, 75, said it was unfair to call for Beoheim’s resignation when there is no evidence that he tried to coverup Fine’s alleged abuse.
“Nothing has been proven about what he knows and what he did not know,” Ragonese said. “To see someone be severely penalized without proving anything is unfair. Even Bernie Fine, sure it looks more and more like he’s guilty, but he hasn’t been formally convicted ... it doesn’t mean anything without evidence and an investigation.”
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune