It’s a sad day in college basketball as Jim Calhoun gave his last press conference at Gampel Pavilion this afternoon announcing his retirement after 26 years with the University of Connecticut. This announcement is a shocking one that maybe shouldn’t be so surprising after all, and it represents is the end of an historic era in Storrs, Connecticut. 873 wins, 3 national championships, and innumerable people touched by his work on the basketball hardwood, Ccoach Calhoun decided to hang ’em up.
Coach Calhoun broke his hip last month. UConn is not eligible to participate in next year’s Big East Tournament or March Madness. Players (sorry, student-athletes) are jumping ship everywhere. The program is on probation for recruiting violations for a kid who lasted less than two months at the school and never suited up for the Huskies. To say things are in shambles in Storrs would be an understatement, and for as much as Jim Calhoun did for the university the time is right for him to move on to the retired life and for the program to build its future identity.
Jim Calhoun arrived in Storrs in May 1986 after a collegiate coaching stop at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. The Irishman from Braintree, Mass. had been responsible for turning the NU Huskies into a power in the ECAC North Atlantic Conference. Former Celtic great Reggie Lewis even had played for Calhoun at NU. Then it was time to move on to the big time, the bright lights.
Even though Calhoun completed his first season just 9-19, he quickly turned the UConn Husky program around. In just his second season his team was invited to (and won) the 1988 National Invitation Tournament (NIT). 11 years and a whole lot of wins later, in 1999, Calhoun won his first national title with the Huskies defeating Duke in the championship game with a team led by Richard “Rip” Hamilton. In another 5 years a team with Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva and other guys who would go on to play in the NBA brought him home #2. In 2011, Coach Calhoun got one final ring. “Cardiac Kemba”, Jeremy Lamb, and a ragtag bunch of talent won UConn their most recent championship. There are only four coaches who have won three or more national championships (John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight, and Coach K), so as you can see he joins more than elite company.
The time is now for Calhoun to move on and he has resigned to that fact, officially. Calhoun goes out on his own terms, appointing former UConn player and NBA journeyman Kevin Ollie as the head coach moving forward. If Ollie is the long term solution or just a short term move before a thorough coaching search can be completed is yet to be seen, but the fact that Ollie made it through 662 NBA games as a player always on one-year contracts should seem like a good indicator that he’s the right man for this situation.
Much like the conference realignment mess, times are a changin’ in Storrs. Their legendary coach will not be walking the sidelines at Gampel or giving officials hell for what he perceives to be missed calls. Instead, the new sheriff is Kevin Ollie. You never want to be the guy who replaces a legend, but being a part of what made the original coach legendary in the first place may be good for the Ollie and the Huskies. Hopefully it is, because today the longest chapter of Connecticut basketball ended. And that chapter was a great one.
Thanks for the memories, Coach.