Commentary

Calhoun among all-time greatest

Updated: September 13, 2012, 12:55 PM ET
By Dick Vitale

Wow, Wednesday was a crazy day. First, Notre Dame decides to announce its plans to move to the ACC. Hours later comes word that Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun is going to retire.

I was not totally shocked by Calhoun's decision, just a little surprised by the timing of it. The bottom line is, he has gone through so much over the years. Recently he suffered a broken hip in a bicycling accident. His program was declared ineligible for the upcoming NCAA tournament due to past APR (academic progress rate) averages being too low.

When I think about Calhoun's career, I think about success. Winning three national championships puts him among the elite, with John Wooden, Coach K, Adolph Rupp and the General, Robert Montgomery Knight. That's right, those are the only five coaches with three or more national titles.

I remember when Connecticut was known as a Yankee Conference school before joining the Big East. Before Calhoun arrived in Storrs, the Huskies were not a national program. He was a Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect, turning the program into a national power by recruiting all across the country.

His hard work and effort was recognized when he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. More importantly, he has been a winner in the game of life. He has beaten cancer three times, the hip surgery. Jim Calhoun is a battler, a fighter, a guy who wants to give it 120 percent at all times. His work with charities in Connecticut and throughout the nation has been so impressive.

Calhoun just gives, gives and gives. He has given to his players, his second family, for so many years.

After he won his third championship in Houston, beating Butler, there was talk of retirement. Calhoun decided to come back and try to make a run at a fourth title. Andre Drummond decided to come to Connecticut a year earlier than expected, and the coach believed he had the pieces in place to return to the winner's circle.

[+] EnlargeJim Calhoun
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireJim Calhoun coached Connecticut to three national championships and four Final Four appearances in his 26 years at the school.

Instead, last season proved disappointing. An early exit in the NCAA tournament against Iowa State ended the campaign. The Huskies did perform to the level of his expectation.

Now being out of this year's big dance, he looked at his overall career, it all wore on him, and he decided to enjoy the grandkids. My friends, it's time to call it a career, and it was a helluva career.

When you look at the total career, his commitment to excellence and where he is right now physically and emotionally, he has every right to call it a day.

I will always remember Calhoun as a consistent winner against big-time competition. I have always appreciated the way he built the program up; he did not inherit a program that was among the Goliaths. Calhoun created an incredible fan base and did a phenomenal job there.

He was always so intense, so emotional. Calhoun coached every possession like it was his last one. He had such passion on the sideline, and the players and his staff knew it. I believe that is why he was so respected.

The Connecticut program is his legacy, and now he turns over the reins to one of his former players, Kevin Ollie. That was the way Calhoun wanted it.

Ollie is familiar with the program. Connecticut is an established basketball power now, and Ollie will have the difficult task of keeping it up among the giants. He has to build on the success, and this year is going to be a transition. Veteran assistants who have served as head coaches before, guys like George Blaney, Glen Miller and Karl Hobbs, will help during the transition period.

I think the expectations in Ollie's first season will be a little lower. The program lost several transfers, including Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith. Jeremy Lamb and Drummond entered the NBA draft.

Ollie will find out that being a head coach is a different world. When you are an assistant, you are making suggestions. When you run the program, you are making decisions.

I will miss Calhoun on the sideline. I am thrilled that we will honor him in Sarasota, Fla., on May 17, 2013, as part of the Dickie V Gala. He has had a remarkable career, one capped off with his Hall of Fame honor. His peers respected him as a giant in the profession.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.