After much speculation and deliberation, UCONN Men’s Basketball Coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement today. UCONN Assistant Kevin Ollie will take over next season. The decision is a surprise, but not shocking since Calhoun recently broke his hip and has constantly battled health issues over the past five years. UCONN and it’s fans knew this day was coming, although we hoped for at least two more years (when his contract ran out).
Calhoun’s basketball legacy is obvious. Three National Championships, building the Connecticut program up from nothing, churning out several NBA stars in the past two decades. He is one of the greatest coaches alive and is already a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the last few years have been rough on the man and the NCAA recruiting violations will be a silly footnote on an illustrious career.
All the numbers and accolades are great, but unless you’re from Connecticut, you just don’t understand how much the man did for the University, but also the state. Connecticut has no professional sports teams. The Whalers left Hartford in 1997, making UCONN sports the only game in town. That was right about the same time when Calhoun’s teams started to make an impact on a national level. Ray Allen’s championship game-winner against Georgetown in the 1996 Big East Tournament is one of the ultimate sports highlights of my youth.
Since that bucket, UCONN basketball has been the only game in town. (OK, the women’s team has been good, but…) Jim Calhoun made Connecticut relevant. He made me proud to be from the nutmeg state. He gave us something to root for. Some people trash Calhoun for his crusty attitude and hot temper, but I love it. Calhoun has never minced words and has always been a thoughtful, intense and passionate coach. His famous “Not a Dime Back” press conference is a YouTube classic. Calhoun was ours and we had his back.
The UCONN program is in good hands with Ollie. He knows has learned from the best, knows the tradition and still has connections to the NBA. The post season ban will hurt them this year, but the team will still be competitive. It is good to hear the Calhoun will still be involved with the team and university, just not on the sidelines. The Jim Calhoun retirement tour/celebration will be long and deserving, although he probably will hate all the extra attention. Coach Calhoun has given me some of my greatest athletics experiences and memories. The games won’t be the same without him.
Calhoun has always had a quick hook for his players, never hesitating to go to his bench after a turnover or terrible play. Well, Calhoun has finally called his own number and is hitting the showers. Thank you, Jim and good luck at whatever is next.