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'He's our legend': UConn's Jim Calhoun retires after a Hall of Fame career

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published September 14. 2012 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Former UConn men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun listens to opening comments at a press conference Thursday at Gampel Pavilion, at which Calhoun would announce his retirement after 26 seasons and three national championships.

Storrs - Before dropping off her husband at Gampel Pavilion Thursday morning on his last day as UConn basketball coach, Pat Calhoun had a message for him.

"Don't change your mind," Pat said.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun, 70, officially retired on Thursday, ending a Hall of Fame career after 40 years in the business, including the last 26 in Storrs. He was replaced by former UConn player and Huskies' assistant coach Kevin Ollie, who received a one-year contract.

Calhoun, though, was completely at peace with his decision, which he cemented during idle time recovering from a broken hip suffered in a bicycle accident on Aug. 4.

Speaking from a stage on the Gampel Pavilion court, Calhoun covered a wide range of topics, including his fondness for the university and basketball program. Family members, fans, former players and ex-assistants and his current team and coaching staff soaked in every word.

"I feel so blessed today that I've had an opportunity to coach at UConn," Calhoun said. "It's never been about me. I've just been the focal point. I know sometime I was a loud and visible focal point. The old expression, you've got to keep going in one direction. I thought the direction was we could do anything. And I feel that today… We're in great shape."

Calhoun, who led the Huskies to three national championships, will remain involved with the program and university as a special assistant to athletic director Warde Manuel.

His arrangement runs through March 21, 2013.

UConn president Susan Herbst spoke about Calhoun's contributions as a coach and a man. She called it a tough day for UConn and a moment of sorrow and celebration.

"I can't tell how many young men, students, former students, staffers, fans, told me that Jim is like a second father to them," Herbst said. "There's no better praise. And this, more than basketball, is his real legacy. He's a legend and he's our legend. He brought us tremendous joy."

Manuel introduced Ollie, who played for Calhoun from 1991-95 and has been an assistant the past two seasons following a 13-year NBA career.

One-year deal

Ollie's one-year contract is worth $625,000.

"Giving me this opportunity is a dream come true," Ollie said. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. This is my dream job. I was made for this job."

In an inspiring speech, Ollie, 39, embraced the challenge of taking over for a coaching legend in his first college head coaching job.

"Kevin Ollie, simply put, epitomizes what we want a UConn athlete and a UConn student to be all about," Calhoun said.

"When you say that about him, that's heavy stuff."

Ollie made some heartfelt remarks about the Calhoun family.

"I love him from the bottom of my heart," Ollie said. "I love his family. Miss Calhoun, every time he yelled at me, you always gave me a kiss. I love you so much for that, and that was a lot of kisses."

A native of Los Angeles, Ollie appeared comfortable in the spotlight. He stressed the importance of academics, called his coaching staff the best in America and praised his players for their loyalty.

He promised long days and late nights.

"It's not going to be easy but we're going to get it done," Ollie said. "As we embark on this journey, we're going to take the stairs, not the escalator because the escalator is for cowards.

"We're going to take the stairs and it's going to be one step at a time and we're going to get there."

Ollie fought back tears when talking about his wife Stephanie, son Jalen and daughter Cheyenne. He was able to spend only about 10 minutes with Stephanie on their 14th wedding anniversary Wednesday.

Difficult days are ahead for Ollie who has only one year to prove that he deserves an extended contract.

Manuel addressed the reasoning behind Ollie's one-year contract.

"It's never easy replacing a legend," Manuel said. "In my mind, we have a long-term vision for Kevin. But it is a short-team challenge. I haven't seen him coach and he's never been a head coach. This is a commitment to him to see what he's like as a head coach."

The hiring of Ollie met the approval of the current UConn players.

"A lot of guys are happy with that," junior Tyler Olander said. "He's a familiar face. We know what he is all about and what he expects, and we're ready for that."

Calhoun finished his career with an overall record of 873-380, sixth on the NCAA's all-time wins list, while his 1,253 games coached is third all-time. He is 625-243 at UConn, the most wins in school history.

The Huskies won championships in 1999, 2004 and 2001, making Calhoun just one of five coaches in history with three or more titles. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.

g.keefe@theday.com

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