Jim Calhoun arrived in Connecticut just over 26 years ago, saying the job of turning the state’s flagship university into a basketball power was “doable.”
Today, that job is done.
Calhoun, with 873 wins, three national championships, nine Big East regular season championships and seven Big East postseason titles behind him, will retire as the Huskies’ head basketball coach Thursday according to multiple sources.
The 70-year-old Hall of Famer will make the news official at a press conference Thursday in Gampel Pavilion. Hartford’s NBC affiliate, WVIT-30, was the first to report Calhoun’s retirement.
Kevin Ollie, the former UConn point guard and NBA veteran who has been an assistant on Calhoun’s staff for the last two seasons, will take over for the time being. There was apparently some discussion between Ollie and UConn officials about whether or not Ollie would have an “interim” or “acting” tag next to his new job, though it appears Ollie has the inside track to continue at the helm of the Huskies either way.
Ollie has long been the leading candidate to replace Calhoun, though Athletic Director Warde Manuel has agreed to give Ollie only a one-year contract.
UConn associate head coach George Blaney, who is two-plus years older than Calhoun, will remain with the team for at least another year according to a source. Assistant Glen Miller will also remain on staff and Karl Hobbs, the program’s director of basketball operations, will be promoted to an assistant coaching position.
Though the Huskies’ third national championship trophy is still almost brand new, a number of off-court issues made headlines where Calhoun’s team is concerned lately.
The school has been barred from the 2013 postseason because of poor scores on the APR. And the NCAA penalties from the recruitment of Nate Miles have only recently been lifted.
In addition, Calhoun’s health has been a concern for some time.
The coach is still recovering from the broken hip he suffered Aug. 4 while riding his bicycle near his summer home in Madison. Calhoun missed eight games last season because of severe back pain and the surgery to help alleviate the problem. He also missed seven games in 2010 because of another medical leave, and has had at least three bouts with cancer.
Calhoun’s three national titles put him in some elite company. Only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp and Bob Knight have won as many in Division I basketball history.
That’s odd to consider when one looks at the program Calhoun took over from Dom Perno in 1986. The Huskies were a regional power but rarely contended nationally.
That began to change with the surprising NIT title Calhoun and the Huskies claimed in 1988. And it shifted seismically with the 1989-90 Dream Season, a breakthrough campaign that saw the Huskies win a legendary NCAA Tournament game when Tate George hit “The Shot” against Clemson and come within a Christian Laettner jump shot of making the Final Four.
Although capable UConn teams fell short of the making the Final Four again in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998, the 1999 team of Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin and company “Shocked the World” with a win over Duke in the title game to give Calhoun and UConn their first national championship.
Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon helped deliver a second national crown in 2004, and both the 2006 and 2009 Husky squads came close to doing the same. The 2006 squad was stunned by George Mason in the regional finals while the 2009 group made the Final Four in Detroit before falling to “host” Michigan State.
Calhoun’s third national title came from one of the most unlikely of teams. Kemba Walker put the Huskies on his shoulders and led them to an amazing run of 11 straight wins to end the season.