The retiring coach didn't rely on tricks or gimmicks: He simply recruited well and took joy in the game.
Jim Calhoun is stepping aside today, a month before the start of what would have been his 27th season as men's basketball coach at the University of Connecticut. He leaves the game as both a winner—three national titles, four Final Four appearances, 873 wins in 40 seasons at UConn and Northeastern—and a character of note in American sport. This is a not insignificant accomplishment: success—particularly sustained success spanning multiple decades, carried out in a place like Storrs, Connecticut, a chunk of dark territory on the college basketball landscape prior to 1986—tends to earn one the benefit of the doubt with media and fans.
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Not Calhoun. Even the warmest assessments of his career to appear since word of the resignation broke last night admit he's a problem play, as coaches go. His critics—who tend to be national columnists, not reporters on the beat, which anyone who knows anything about sports media knows will tell you is the true test of congeniality in the coaching ranks—insist the school's upcoming one-year postseason ban for failing to make grades (according to the NCAA's newly-designed, highly confusing and selective Academic Progress Reports) and the shady recruitment of a guard named Nate Miles back in 2006 (which earned Calhoun a three-game suspension last year) tarnish his legacy irrevocably.
Maybe. But mild NCAA sanctions of yesteryear have a way of falling into footnote. It will be harder to forget Calhoun's sideline demeanor (not aesthetically pleasing, with the stomping and f-bombs) and prickly postgame news conferences. It is true, he never mastered the art of the evasive response. He was more inclined to offer an 800-word affront to the concept of a non-answer, on-the-record and peppered with elliptical and majestic profanity. Whether this is preferrable to "I'm not going to get into that here" is a matter of personal preference. But it's instructive to look at his most frequently replayed addresss, delivered after a loss to Providence in 2004. Friars forward Ryan Gomes (a Waterbury native on his way to being named First Team All-America) scored 24 points and nabbed 12 rebounds. When asked (not for the first time) how Gomes was ever able to get out of the state, Calhoun said, "I fucked up!"—a claim he went on to repeat several times.