September 13, 2012 by kujhawk
There are certain schools and certain sports that are synonymous with a name. Florida State football? Well that’s Bobby Bowden. Duke basketball? That’s Mike Krzyzewski – or Coach K as he is more affectionately known.
Over the course of his 26-year tenure as Connecticut’s men basketball coach, Jim Calhoun became one of those names by being outspoken with the media and the officials and putting great basketball teams on the floor. From a non-factor in elite college basketball, Calhoun took UConn and made it a relevant basketball school. Today, during an emotional press conference, Calhoun is calling it quits in Storrs, CT.
He started at UConn in 1986-87, leading the Huskies to a sub-par 9-19 record. But the very next year, Calhoun and UConn were in the NIT. Not only did they receive an invitation, they ended up winning the whole thing – defeating Ohio State for the title.
He reached his first NCAA tournament in 1990, when he was named national coach of the year as he led the Huskies to a 29-6 record and an elite 8 appearance in just his fourth season.
”No one ever thought that UConn could become a national power, one of the top-five programs in the nation,” associate head coach Blaney said during Calhoun’s retirement press conference. ”Now you look at what this school has become, the type of students that they have, the buildings, even the image of the state, so much of that is attributable to the success of his basketball program.”
But health problems and sanctions from the NCAA put a damper on Calhoun later in his career at UConn.
Besides his hip fracture this August, he missed the Huskies first round NCAA tournament game because of dehydration in 2009. He had three different bouts with cancer (prostate once and twice skin), missed eight games last season because of a spinal condition and came back to coach just four days after having back surgery for the season finale and postseason play. In addition to these medical leaves of absence, Calhoun was hospitalized in 2009 when he broke his ribs while participating in a charity bike ride.
After winning his third national championship in 2011, Calhoun was suspended for the first three Big East conference games in the 2011-12 season for what was called “failing to maintain an atmosphere of compliance in his program with NCAA rules.”
”I never, ever, ever said that I was mistake free,” Calhoun said. ”But I always tried to do the right thing.”
Despite the recent troubles, the press conference was an emotional goodbye for Calhoun.
”This is a day of sorrow, celebration and admiration,” Connecticut President Susan Herbst said.
Besides that suspension of Calhoun last season, UConn is ineligible – academically – for the 2013 NCAA tournament. After a waiver submitted to the NCAA that showed academic improvement was denied, five underclassmen left UConn in the off-season, two going to the NBA and three transferring schools. This puts newly named head coach Kevin Ollie in a tough spot. Regardless of the circumstances, he said, he is excited.
”I am very honored and humbled to become the UConn men’s basketball coach,” said Ollie. ”I cannot put into words how grateful I am to coach Jim Calhoun, who retires today as one of the most legendary coaches in the history of college basketball. Coach Calhoun brought me here to Connecticut as a person right out of high school and has mentored me into the person I have become today.”
Regardless of the current state of the program or what has happened in recent months, Jim Calhoun should still be given the respect he deserves. He is in the Naismith College Basketball Hall of Fame. He won 873 games at Northeastern and UConn. He went to 4 final fours. He is the oldest coach to win a national championship at 68, and by the way, he won two others. He coached a plethora of NBA players. He dedicated his life to bettering young men’s lives through coaching and he did a fantastic job. He did not have the facilities or tradition when he took the UConn job, but as he retires, those aspects are firmly instilled in every college basketball fan’s mind.
No man is perfect, and Calhoun admits that he was not. But no one should ever question his legacy. There will never be another man like Jim Calhoun at Connecticut, or, for that matter, at any school in division one college basketball.
Sorry Coach Ollie, but you have a heck of a lot to live up to.
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