NCAA BK

Calhoun gave it his all for Huskies

Watch as Jim Calhoun talks about his retirement.
Watch as Jim Calhoun talks about his retirement.
Share This Story

Sam Gardner

Sam Gardner is a general assignment writer for FOXSports.com. Originally from Orlando, Fla., he previously covered the Orlando Magic for FOX Sports Florida and has also covered the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and MLB playoffs. Follow him on Twitter.

MORE>>
   
 

When I last saw Jim Calhoun in person, at the Big East tournament in New York this spring, he looked like a man who needed to call it quits, even if, in his heart of hearts, he knew he wasn’t ready to hang it up.

It wasn’t that the legendary UConn coach and basketball Hall of Fame inductee had become emotionally disengaged with the sport to which he had devoted his life. No, in fact, it was quite the contrary.

Throughout the Huskies’ surprising run to the tournament quarterfinals, Calhoun was reflective about the emotionally taxing regular season his team had overcome, and the historically choleric leader at times sounded downright schmaltzy about his final days with a senior class that he, in some ways, felt he had let down.

You didn’t have to be particularly insightful or a close confidant of the coach to know that, even after 40 years — 26 at UConn and 14 down Interstate 90 at Northeastern — Calhoun still loved every moment he spent on the bench, in the gym, in the weight room or in his office, molding boys into men and transforming Connecticut into one of the most feared programs in college hoops.

But as the then-69-year-old lumbered around Madison Square Garden, his back still aching in the wake of recent surgery to address a painful case of spinal stenosis — the latest affliction in a decade that included treatment for prostate cancer, skin cancer (twice), broken ribs and other ailments that cost him some 40 games on the sideline — it was equally clear that, physically anyway, he’d had enough.

Calhoun’s deteriorating body simply couldn’t take the daily rigors of coaching a top-flight college program anymore. Add to that a broken hip as a result of an August bicycle crash, and you knew his coaching days were numbered. They had to be.

Of course, Calhoun had heard all that before, and never had he given it the credence it deserved.

But on Thursday, Calhoun finally heeded the advice that for years seemed so obvious to so many — especially after his third national championship, in 2011 — and retired from coaching at the age of 70, with 873 wins, those three banners and the respect of everyone who has ever played or coached for or against him under his belt.

winningest coaches

TOP OF THE HEAP

Mike Krzyzewski leads a storied group on college hoops' all-time win list.

“It’s been a long time, and some folks have asked, ‘Did your hip injury lead to you not coaching?’” Calhoun said during a news conference at Gampel Pavilion, where the university named assistant coach Kevin Ollie as Calhoun’s successor. “I hope to be better in the next three or four weeks, and practice, I could certainly do that. But the hip injury actually gave me a momentary pause … and it gave me a lot of time to contemplate some of the things in my life.

“I looked around and looked at our staff, looked at Kevin, looked at our kids, our players … and knew that we’re heading in the right direction. … So I thought it was an excellent time, and knew the university was in excellent shape, and I wanted to be a part of it in a whole different way.”

There are plenty of people out there who won’t miss Calhoun now that he’s gone. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, they might say. And, indeed, Calhoun was aggressive and abrasive and could be a real hothead — go ahead, just ask him about whether he thinks he makes too much money as a state employee, or about whether he should have recruited Ryan Gomes, and see what happens.

And, to be sure, Calhoun’s career didn’t come to pass without its low points — and the school will continue to deal with the consequences of the mess he’s leaving behind, even after he has moved on.

The program was already on probation, and will be until February 2014, as a result of a scandal involving a recruit, Nate Miles, who received improper benefits from booster-turned-agent Josh Nochimson. The Huskies are also not eligible to play in this season's NCAA tournament because their academic progress rate didn’t meet the minimum standard for teams to compete in postseason play.

But Calhoun has been as accountable as one could be about the mistakes that occurred under his watch, and he planned on seeing the dark times through, until his body decided it had other ideas.

CHEERS!

They're part of the magic every season. Enjoy our photo-gallery tribute to college basketball cheerleaders.

“I thought it was the right time for me,” Calhoun said. “Thank God, physically, I’m very healthy, but I always felt, last year, guilty about missing 11 games … and I just didn’t want anything to get in their way, and I’m at a point where I have a lot of things I know I can do to help, and I know who’s in place. That’s very important.”

As he departs, Calhoun can take comfort in the fact that he’s stepping down knowing that he had already done everything he wanted to — everything that he could do — in the nearly three decades since he proclaimed that the job of transforming Connecticut into a national power was “doable.”

He took a small regional program and made it a powerhouse. He made podunk Storrs, Conn. — a place no one wanted to be — into one of the places to be if you wanted to make it in college hoops.

“It took players from all over the country who truly believed we were doing something very special here. Initially, it was based upon trust, on a dream, not on tangible facts we could show them,” Calhoun said, deflecting most of the credit for the school’s development away from himself. “But you believed … because we said that we believed it.”

Calhoun put the University of Connecticut on the map, almost literally, and put a host of players into the NBA in the process. Ray Allen, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva and Kemba Walker are among the many who owe Calhoun a debt of gratitude for making their dreams of becoming a pro come true.

He also retires as one of just five Division I coaches to have won at least three national championships, joining John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp and Bobby Knight. Calhoun is also the sixth-winningest D-I coach of all time, trailing only Krzyzewski and Syracuse coach (and Calhoun rival) Jim Boeheim in that category among active coaches.


Get more college basketball news and features from Scout.com or check out your favorite team.

At his retirement ceremony, Calhoun looked back on his career and his love of basketball, which he said was sparked by the death of his father when he was 15 years old. And listening to him recall the comfort he derived from being around the sport couldn’t help but make you understand how hard it was for him to walk away.

“Basketball to me, all you needed was a boy, a ball and a dream, so I could do away with those thoughts I had,” Calhoun said. “So it became home, I guess. … The gym is a place of comfort, a place of competition, a place to seek excellence and a place to grow.”

And as such, it’ll be tough to take the cantankerous old man away from the game he loves, even if he’s retired. Jim Calhoun may no longer be the head coach, but he’ll always be UConn basketball.

“I would never tell Kevin, I would never tell any of our staff what to do — but if they sought my advice, I would give them my advice,” Calhoun said. “Our family is a close family, and no matter what I’m doing, I’m available to Kevin 24 hours a day, as I am for the rest of the staff, as I am for the guys. So that kind of describes who and where I’ll be.

“I’ll be here at UConn, with or without a whistle.”

You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or e-mail him at samgardnerfox@gmail.com.

Tagged: Connecticut

More Stories From Sam Gardner

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by



NCAA BK Videos

Georgetown, Syracuse to renew CBK rivalry Posted: Jun 10, 2014
Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III on the renewal of the rivalry betw...

Cuonzo Martin new head coach at Cal Posted: Apr 16, 2014
Cuonzo Martin is introduced as Cal's new head coach.

UConn tops Notre Dame in women's final Posted: Apr 09, 2014
Hear from Geno Auriemma and his players after their National Championship victor...

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Florida_Gators/browse/featuredproduct/885881/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_885000/ff_885881_xl.jpg&w=100 74.95 Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black
    Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Georgetown_Hoyas/browse/featuredproduct/1030243/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1030000/ff_1030243_xl.jpg&w=100 119.95 Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue
    Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Duke_Blue_Devils/browse/featuredproduct/1032710/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1032000/ff_1032710_xl.jpg&w=100 27.95 Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue
    Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oregon_Ducks/browse/featuredproduct/1052002/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052002_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green
    Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Ohio_State_Buckeyes/browse/featuredproduct/1052645/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052645_xl.jpg&w=100 29.95 Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet
    Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Indiana_Hoosiers/browse/featuredproduct/1124528/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1124000/ff_1124528_xl.jpg&w=100 19.95 Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Cri..
    adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Louisville_Cardinals/browse/featuredproduct/1127200/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127200_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red
    adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Notre_Dame_Fighting_Irish/browse/featuredproduct/1127218/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127218_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey ..
    Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Gonzaga_Bulldogs/browse/featuredproduct/1155821/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1155000/ff_1155821_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue
    Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Champions Adjustable Hat – Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Miami_Hurricanes/browse/featuredproduct/1177723/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1177000/ff_1177723_xl.jpg&w=100 25.95 Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Cham..