Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Bilas [Print without images]

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Respect for a coaching original


Mark me down as one of those who has always liked Jim Calhoun. Because of his brisk demeanor, some people are in the opposite camp, finding Calhoun distasteful and hard to like. Not I.

Jim Calhoun
Calhoun was demanding of his players but got a lot out of them.

Calhoun, who has opted to retire, leaves the game as an original, and he has been the same since his first day at UConn in 1986. A New England bare-knuckle brawler who asked no quarter and gave none, Calhoun fought for respect in a league of traditional powers. Then, he built his program into such a power and kept the Connecticut Huskies among the nation's elite with his uncompromising standards and less-than-polite directness with his players, staff and anyone within earshot.

Calhoun had an opinion, and he shared it whether you liked it or not. I respect that, and I like it. His expectations of his players were high, sometimes impossibly so. But Calhoun pushed and prodded his players to exceed perceived limits and self-imposed barriers, and helped them become champions. The late Skip Prosser used to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, saying that a true friend is somebody who can make us do what we can. In that regard, and many others, Calhoun was a true friend to his players.

Calhoun had a quick hook, pulling players from the game immediately upon mistakes and letting everyone in the building know exactly whose fault it was and his innermost thoughts about it. At the same time, he built up the ego of his players to carry themselves as champions and perform as the same when the spotlight was brightest.

With some young players, Calhoun would publicly project them as future superstars when others believed it was premature and not yet earned. To Calhoun, that was nonsense. To build a superstar from super-talented raw material, Calhoun believed he had to fuel the ego of that player and persuade him to believe there was indeed a star within him. The coach forced that star out, and more often than not, it worked.

Calhoun had star talent, but his teams played with a blue-collar, lunch-pail mentality. A part of him has always felt a bit slighted despite his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His place among the game's greatest coaches is secure, although he always coached with an insecurity that fueled his inner drive.

I have always liked Jim Calhoun. When asked why, I can point to so many great people who count Calhoun as a friend, who see his great work for charity and his passion and true concern for his players. On Calhoun, I'll stand with them.

Calhoun leaves the game better than he found it and has accomplished what few could have imagined. The game will go on without him, of course, but it will not be as interesting without him, and it will never be quite the same.