In the end, Jim Calhoun made the decision that eventually has to be made by the blessed of the best. Calhoun is amongst those who do their job so well with dedication honor and passion, it can make those who are watching think it will never come to an end. Coach Calhoun's retirement decision was sooner rather than later. Shortly after what would be his final NCAA national championship title, he professed he would be back for another season, Coach Calhoun's family, his players, his fans, and all of college basketball awaited the inevitable retirement announcement which came yesterday.
I have watched Coach Calhoun from afar as so many former participants and fans of the game. He was my kind of coach. He stated that he believed anything was possible with the teams he coached. Coach Calhoun would fight for you to until the end but would be all over correcting one of his players if they were wrong. Players respect and love that quality about a coach. You may not like him on every occasion. especially when he perceived you to be an adversary to the cause but he was honest. He may not answer you or do things the way you want but in the end he would get things done with or without you. His players all say he pushed them to reach. I was fortunate to have played for the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Being taught and obeying the principles exampled by Coach Wooden for on the court success as well as life off the court has given me an insight into the characteristics of greatness in others.
It is a unique transition moving from assistant coach to head coach in the same arena following the Calhoun regime. The assistant coach has different job responsibilities and a different relationship with the players than the head coach. The head coach makes the final decisions after all input from his assistant coaches. Despite just having a one-year contract Coach Ollie has a chance to continue a legacy. During his 13 years in the NBA he curved a career for himself on toughness and learning how to fit with teams where he was needed. Teams called on Kevin Ollie when they had a hole that called for a professional who knows how to come in and give the team what was needed until it was not needed. Many times he won jobs with NBA teams without a guaranteed contract in sight. These adversities build character, if the new UCONN coach continues to learn from his mentor and obey the principles of success Coach Calhoun imbedded in the system, he will be successful. Right and wrong are both clear; choose right.
Coach Calhoun and Coach Wooden both came to universities whose basketball programs that lacked basketball facilities and tradition. Both coaches took a while to get their program to a championship but once they figured it out they came back for more. With Irish blood flowing through them they both fought for their teams and the university they represented. Calhoun and Wooden were men of different eras. During Wooden's seasons incoming freshmen had to play freshmen basketball and all his players stayed in college four seasons. During Calhoun seasons as a head coach freshmen could play varsity right away and those with NBA potential and desire could leave after one season. Both men were from humble, simple, hardworking backgrounds. Wooden stayed at UCLA 27 years one year longer than Calhoun. Coach Wooden's 1975 team was able to send him out as a champion in his final game, as Coach Calhoun's 2011 team was able to win what was his third and last NCAA national championship.
Coach "Clean" Gene Bartow was selected to follow Wooden as Coach at UCLA. This was a completely different transition than the one occurring at the University of Connecticut as of today. Coach Bartow was faced with expectations that were put him were overwhelming. NCAA national championship titles were the mode of the day at UCLA. The late Gene Bartow was a great man and a very good coach. He was not coach Coach Wooden, he had his own style of coaching. I do not think he anticipated the atmosphere in Los Angeles, the medis, the bright lights and that came with the job. He was a great builders as he did at Valporaso and Memphis State. He took the Tigers to the NCAA championship game in 1973, losing to a Bill Walton led UCLA team. He would make it back to the Final Four as the head coach for UCLA in 1976. The Bruins lost to Bobby Knight's Indiana team in the semi-final game. Kevin Ollie should have a smoother transition but the standard Jim Calhoun left behind is still high, but I believe the old ball coach where be there for one of his own.
Despite the faults and mistakes Coach Jim Calhoun may have made he still finishes his run in the company of the best coaches men's college basketball has to offer.
Coaches with three or more NCAA national championships:
- John Wooden 10
- Adolph Rupp 4
- Mike Krzyzewski 4
- Bobby Knight 3
- Jim Calhoun 3
Jim Calhoun is definitely in the conversation!