By Matt Aveni
Jim Calhoun was standing in Gampel Pavilion where he recorded many of his 873 career wins and announced his retirement as head basketball coach for the University of Connecticut. Calhoun did not have a perfect record with his recruitment violations and a few altercations with the media, but one thing for sure is that he is retiring as a top five college basketball coach of all time.
When thinking of Calhoun the names of Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight and Jim Boehiem come to mind. They all are the winningest coaches in men’s college basketball history and all have their name in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Calhoun was a great leader on and off the court; he brought the Huskies to four Final Fours and walked away being the National Champion three of those times. Calhoun moved twenty-nine of his former players to the NBA. He gave star athletes the drive and knowledge to become NBA stars with the likes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Rudy Gay and most recently Kemba Walker to the NBA.
He competed in a state where college basketball was not at par with the powerhouses of the country like Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina. Jim built this program from the ground up, taking his teams one step at a time to becoming a nationally recognized program year in and year out. He is one of the few who had the pressure of the schools’ women’s basketball program being better than the men’s, with Geno Auriemma leading the Lady Huskies to be the best team every year in women’s college basketball.
Calhoun brought a state with no real professional sports team, with the exception of the Whalers leaving Connecticut, to being primetime television every time the Huskies played. With all of this accomplished, Jim Calhoun is retiring on his own terms.
He could have retired after his heavily favored Husky team lost in the Final Four to Michigan State, or after Kemba Walker led the Huskies to an unprecedented run winning the Big East tournament and the National Championship as heavy underdogs. He could have retired while being treated for cancer, but even that was not enough for him. Calhoun loved coaching and leading young men to become better individuals. Kevin Ollie will take over as the men’s head basketball coach at UCONN. Calhoun hand-picked Ollie to be his predecessor and to carry on the stable name that the University of Connecticut brings to the college basketball community.
The story of Jim Calhoun goes on further than just what he did on the basketball court. Calhoun has an annual walk or ride charity event where the all of the proceeds go to the Coaches versus Cancer Organization. Calhoun and his wife, Pat, also donated a cardiology center to help further research in the medical world. He also an Honorary Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House where he has raised thousands of dollars to help people in need. The family also has food drive to help families who are hungry during the Holidays.
Jim Calhoun may not sit easy watching Huskies play, but he left them in the hands of Ollie and long-time assistant, George Blaney. He may not be completely leaving the program since he is stepping in Assistant Athletic Director, but even long after Calhoun’s career is over his name will carry on with the college basketball greats. Calhoun may have has his controversies on and off the court, but he is more than just a basketball coach for the University of Connecticut, he is a leader who puts himself last and his players and state first.