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Thursday, September 13, 2012
Jim Calhoun knows it's time to go

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

STORRS, Conn. -- Jim Calhoun walked into Gampel Pavilion, on crutches, shortly before 10 a.m. Thursday for the last time as head coach at UConn.

His devoted wife, Pat, was alongside him. She immediately shook her head when Calhoun tossed his crutches aside, despite having had surgery a month ago to replace a fractured hip.

Calhoun knows he can't go completely without crutches just yet, even though he'd love to show everyone at Thursday's news conference, where he'll announce his retirement, that he's capable of beating back another injury and can coach again. But even he knows better now, realizing that it is finally time to let go.

That's Calhoun: defiant, hard-headed and tough, but also rational about what must be done to achieve the ultimate goal.

"It's time," Calhoun said. "It's time to move forward. There's been a lot of things swirling around for some time. It's time to move forward."

Calhoun's decision to retire after 26 seasons, three national titles, four Final Four appearances and having sent a plethora of UConn players to the NBA, comes on his terms.

New UConn athletic director Warde Manuel told ESPN.com this past week that Calhoun deserved to exit in his own manner. That's exactly what he's doing, a month before official practice begins. His handpicked successor, assistant Kevin Ollie, will be named head coach.

UConn officials are still working out the details of Ollie's contract, but Calhoun confirmed that it would be a one-year deal, adding that he hopes Ollie stays on long-term. Calhoun said he wants Ollie to be successful, and that he would be evaluated not by how he deals with people or his recruiting, but by how he handles every facet of being a head coach. He said all UConn staff and former players want Ollie to be successful.

It's time. It's time to move forward. There's been a lot of things swirling around for some time. It's time to move forward.

--UConn coach Jim Calhoun

Ollie, a former Calhoun player, returned to UConn two seasons ago; the Huskies won their third national title in his first season on the bench. Calhoun has strived to build a family atmosphere at UConn, much like Dean Smith has created at North Carolina. He wanted to emulate Smith's decision to retire, putting the pieces in place before evaluating, prior to the season, whether he still had the passion, energy and stamina. Calhoun determined that he does not.

His legacy is intact. He created a national power at a school that lacked tradition, facilities and a deep recruiting pool.

"I think what Jim did at UConn is maybe the most significant athletic accomplishment in the 30-plus years of the Big East," said former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. "I know what UConn was. People were yelling and screaming about why we were adding UConn [in 1979, when the Big East was formed]. No person on the face of the Earth could have accomplished what Jim did at UConn."

Tranghese said he knows a number of critics view Calhoun as controversial but said he knows the other side of him, as well. When his wife died, Tranghese said Calhoun called him constantly.

"For me, I'm happy it's over for Jim so he can go out on his terms," Tranghese said. "I think he's at peace with it."

Jim Calhoun
Jim Calhoun's first national championship came in 1999, when UConn defeated Duke. He would add two more, in 2004 and 2011.

Mike Krzyzewski, whose Duke team UConn beat to claim Calhoun's first national championship in 1999, said Calhoun will be missed.

"He's an amazing competitor and clearly one of the best coaches ever," Krzyzewski said. "For 40 years as a college head coach, his teams played with his spirit, and the results were unmistakable -- championship-level performances. He is a true giant in our game and a dear friend. Certainly, he will be missed."

Other peers of Calhoun's paid respect to what he's created at UConn. Jamie Dixon said when he joined Ben Howland's staff at Pitt, they wanted to emulate the way in which UConn played under Calhoun. Kentucky head coach John Calipari recognized Calhoun for his impact on the university as a whole.

"The basketball speaks for itself," Calipari said. "People judge different things, but I'm more impressed with how he had an impact on the campus. The special ones transform the campus. It was a crappy campus, and now 25 years later it's one of the nicest in the country. What happened to the campus, to the athletic department, that's what he was able to do there. There's no way that happens if he isn't doing what he did in basketball there."

Al Skinner coached against Calhoun at Boston College when the two programs were rivals in the Big East.

"Jim was a tremendous competitor," Skinner said. "He forced you to bring your A-game. I truly enjoyed our competitions. Jim helped sustain and maintain the dominance of the Big East in college basketball."

Added former St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca: "Jim Calhoun will be missed. He is a great coach who built that program into a basketball powerhouse. His fans and his players will sorely miss him. He did a great job."

Calhoun should have left after winning the 2011 national title in Houston. It proved to be a chaotic season, with NCAA trouble, a three-game suspension, back surgery, a postseason ban and now a fractured hip. All of that forced him to re-examine his priorities, and he finally knew that it was time to leave, on his own terms, when he could still walk out by himself, even if his wife would prefer he use the crutches.