Published June 14. 2013 4:00AM
George Blaney announced his retirement Thursday, ending a 43-year love affair coaching college basketball.
His relationship with the sport started during his playing days and grew stronger as a coach, including the last 12 years at UConn.
Blaney, 73, spent last season as an assistant coach and then accepted a role as a special assistant/advisor to head coach Kevin Ollie before deciding to retire.
Since his playing days, including a brief pro stint with the New York Knicks and All-New England career at Holy Cross, Blaney has been fascinated by the game of basketball.
"The game has been my life," Blaney said. "Players and coaches that have been with me have made it very special. I hope I was able to give back to some degree.
"… I was fortunate to have really good coaches. I even had good coaches in grammar schools, coaches that loved the game of basketball. So from an early age, I was intrigued by the game. That never left."
Considered a New England coaching legend, a great teacher and class act, Blaney's coaching journey included stops at Stonehill, Dartmouth, Seton Hall, Rhode Island and 22 years as head coach at Holy Cross.
He joined Jim Calhoun's staff at UConn in 2001, contributing to two national championships, three Final Four appearances, six Big East titles and 10 NCAA trips.
But he was more than Calhoun's associate head coach. They were close friends and shared a passion for the game. Despite different personalities - during games Calhoun was the fierce hurricane and Blaney the calm eye of the storm - their relationship worked.
They could spend hours talking basketball and golf - and often did. He filled in on the sidelines when Calhoun went on any medical leave of absence.
"It was a big thing to me that he had enough faith in me that he allowed me to coach and it was a big thing that the players responded," Blaney said. "But it was always Jim's team. I tried to do what he would have done. I had to do it in my own personality."
Blaney remains grateful that Calhoun hired him. He revealed that Calhoun's wife, Pat, was behind the decision.
"I will never underestimate what he did for me in hiring me here," Blaney said. "That wasn't an easy decision to make. Quite honestly, Pat really hired me, not Jim."
Calhoun cherishes his relationship with Blaney.
"I've known George for 40-plus years, and he is not only one of the best basketball coaches, but also one of the finest people I've ever been around," Calhoun said. "When he joined me at UConn, I think it was a great marriage of perhaps two very different personalities, but two people who were very similar in our feelings about the game of basketball and the kids who played for us.
"George had an awful lot to do with all that we were able to accomplish here and I will cherish the time we had working together. He will always be very special to me."
When Calhoun retired last fall, Blaney stayed on as an assistant on Ollie's staff. He served as a mentor to the first-year head coach.
"Coach Blaney is just a great basketball coach … just the way he puts basketball and life in perspective," Ollie said. "He's been somebody I can confide in, no matter what the situation. Not only was Coach Blaney a great help to me last year through the transition to head coach, but he helped me when I was an assistant, helped me in my whole path to becoming a college coach."
Now Blaney is trying to figure out what to do with his idle time. He'll spend time at his Cape Cod home with wife, Maryellen, and visit his five children and seven grandchildren.
But he will still stay connected with his UConn family.
"I hope I'll be around," Blaney said. "I have too many friends here and too much invested in the team. I think they're going to be a great team this year, I really do."