Calhoun comfortable just being self
Coach contends ‘legacy comes down to who I am and what I am’
HOUSTON -- If the national championship game against Butler had ended in disappointment Monday night at Reliant Stadium, Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun likely might have talked more about a potential retirement.
But as the Huskies savored the thrill of being on top of the world after a 53-41 victory against Butler, there was a sense that Calhoun was more inclined to return for a 40th season on the bench of a Division I program.
Calhoun seemed energized by the amazing run his team had just completed, starting with an unreal five-day march to the Big East tournament title and ending with a grueling NCAA tournament battle against the Bulldogs that will hardly go down as one of the ugliest title games in history.
For Calhoun, this was his third championship at UConn, elevating him into rarified air. John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski are the only other coaches who have won three or more championships.
And while Calhoun's place in the history of college basketball is up for debate, what no one can question is the enjoyment he got out taking the Huskies from unranked nationally to national champions. “This team has taken me on one of the great special journeys, better than I ever imagined,” Calhoun said. “When I needed maybe a little more of what I do, which is teach and coach, they gave it to me ten-fold.”
Calhoun has been through a lot this season. He has dealt with the heartbreak of losing loved ones and the stress of dealing with the NCAA over recruiting violations. Calhoun failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and will have to serve a three-game suspension during Big East play next year.
His players, however, including star Kemba Walker -- the driving force behind the Huskies’ championship season -- stuck by their coach through the tough times and helped relieve a little pressure off of his shoulders by delivering a title. “Coach Calhoun has been through a lot this year, deaths in his family, NCAA stuff, but we helped him overcome everything,” Walker said. “There isn’t much else to say. We won two of the biggest tournaments on the collegiate level. I think we made his year.”
Calhoun smiled as he listened to those comments from a player he considers to be the best in the nation. “The joy the kids gave me, especially with everything that went on, was special,” Calhoun said. “They gave me the gift of trust and the gift of faith they had in me. They never gave up and re-affirmed everything I believe in. I have a great job, and this team gave me the sweetest ride of my life.”
|Dean Smith||North Carolina||2|
|Roy Williams||North Carolina||2|
|Henry Iba||Oklahoma State||2|
|Phil Woolpert||San Francisco||2|
As for the troubles with the NCAA, Calhoun said he holds no grudges. “I took full responsibility for what happened with the NCAA,” Calhoun said. “What was hurtful was that some people felt it was a great time to take cheap shots. The sweetness of this moment? It’s very sweet. I have no bitterness toward anyone. I know who I am.”
Despite everything, Calhoun is a winner.
He has 855 wins and 367 losses. He has three national titles in four trips to the Final Four. He has taken the Huskies to the Sweet Sixteen 16 times and to the Elite Eight nine times. Before he arrived at UConn in 1986, the school was 4-14 in the NCAA tournament. Calhoun has guided the Huskies to a 46-13 mark in the tournament.
Also, his eight 30-win seasons are third behind only Krzyzewski and Roy Williams. Calhoun is sixth all-time among Division I coaching leaders.
Calhoun was asked to talk about his legacy as a coach on Monday night. He had no problem answering that question.
“I used to think others wrote your legacy, but my legacy comes down to who I am and what I am,” Calhoun said. “If you want to write about my legacy, talk with other coaches or other people in the Big East. They will tell you about me. My dad said something to me a long time ago, and that is you are known by the company you keep. I’m in sweet company.”
Still, it doesn’t appear as if Calhoun is going anywhere just yet. He said this UConn team injected him with the desire to continue coaching. If he did opt to walk away and go out on top, he wouldn’t have a problem with that either.
“I feel passionately about coaching, and if I believe I can still give the kids everything humanly possible that I have, then I will continue to coach,” Calhoun said. “I feel like I can go on for another five years or more. This team did so much for me. But I have an incredible life outside of coaching. I could find other things to do.”