UConn's Calhoun should go out on his own terms
Jim Calhoun and Lute Olson are both Hall of Famers who have national titles on their résumé and built national powerhouses basically from scratch.
There are plenty of similarities between the two coaches, but one Calhoun doesn’t need to add to his résumé is the manner in which he concludes his lengthy and successful career.
Calhoun, 67, is on an indefinite leave of absence due to undisclosed health issues.
The UConn head coach has battled prostate and skin cancer, broke multiple ribs in a bike accident and even missed an NCAA tournament game last March due to health reasons.
Now, he has stepped away from his team.
Olson, the former Arizona coach, was in his early 70s when his career started to spiral. He missed the entire 2007-08 campaign and was set to come back last season before abruptly announcing his retirement just prior to the start of the year.
I don’t know all the specifics of Calhoun’s latest health issues. The word from the UConn camp is that it’s not cancer or cardiac-related, and there doesn’t appear to be any panic among the coaching staff and players.
He could return for Saturday’s game against Texas.
Or he could miss the remainder of the season.
“We really don’t know how long it’ll be,” UConn sophomore guard Kemba Walker said following Wednesday night’s 75-59 victory against St. John’s. “But he’s a fighter.”
What I do know that this Hall of Fame coach deserves a better fate than the last one who went out.
“The advice I’d give to Jim is to listen to your doctor,” Olson said on Wednesday night from his home in Tucson. “Sometimes we get to the point where we think we’re beyond it and we think we’re fine.”
Calhoun and Olson’s situations are different.
Olson’s private life became public with a bitter divorce from his second wife. His coaching status was far more uncertain with him taking the one-year hiatus. He finally called it a career after he was found to have suffered a minor stroke about eight months prior to him announcing his retirement.
Calhoun’s been far more open about his health issues, and while some questioned whether Olson was starting to slow down mentally, Calhoun is as sharp as ever.
But both men are stubborn.
“With me, it finally got to the point where my doctor and cardiologist said you can’t continue to put yourself under this kind of stress,” Olson said. “The doctors know what they’re talking about. His health after coaching is more important than what he recognizes. It was hard for me to give it up, too.”
Calhoun is in his 38th season, his 24th in Storrs. He has won 816 games in his distinguished career that began in 1972 at Northeastern University.
He’s been to three Final Four and won a pair of national titles in 1999 and 2004.
There’s truly nothing left for him to accomplish, and it’s not as if the Huskies are positioned to win another title and he can go out with a parade in Storrs, anyway.
The current team, the one that snapped a three-game losing streak Wednesday night against St. John’s with acting coach George Blaney on the sidelines, still doesn’t possess a win over a lock NCAA tournament team — and it’s already Jan. 20.
The Huskies will lose arguably its top two players, Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson, and in all likelihood (unless they land a big-time point guard) won’t welcome in a stellar recruiting class next fall.
Olson didn’t ever yearn for the farewell tour but said he regrets not going out on his own terms.
“The doctor said he needs a break at this point, and the doctor will know when the right time is to step back in,” Olson said.
Blaney said that Calhoun told him Tuesday that he was finally going to heed his doctor’s advice.
Calhoun admitted he considered retiring after UConn’s Final Four run last March. There were allegations of recruiting violations, and now come more health issues.
It’ll give opposing schools added ammunition to hammer UConn in recruiting circles. That’s a major reason why new Arizona coach Sean Miller is struggling in his first season in Tucson. He doesn’t have enough players because of the uncertainty surrounding Olson towards the end of his tenure.
For now, Calhoun is in a holding pattern while health issues continue to arise.
“I thought I could coach well into my late 70s,” Olson said.
Olson was wrong.
Let’s hope it ends differently for Calhoun.