Jim Calhoun has retired after 26 years as men’s basketball coach at the University of Connecticut, where he won three national championships and built one of the most successful programs in college sports over 26 years.
Calhoun, 70, is one of eight Division I coaches in history with more than 800 victories and had a 625-243 record since arriving at the Storrs, Connecticut, campus in 1986. He’s averaged more than 24 wins a year at a school that before his arrival had only two 23-win seasons.
In 2011, Calhoun became the fifth men’s coach in college basketball history to win three or more national titles, joining John Wooden (10), Adolph Rupp (4), Mike Krzyzewski (4) and Bob Knight (3). Calhoun, who also won championships at UConn in 1999 and 2004, was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005 and the following year was a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I feel so blessed today that I’ve had the opportunity to coach at UConn,” Calhoun said at a news conference yesterday. “It’s never been about me. I’ve just been the focal point.”
Calhoun has missed games for health reasons in three of the past four seasons and has also had recent problems with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which suspended him three games at the start of last season for recruiting violations. UConn is ineligible for this season’s NCAA tournament and Big East Conference league championship for failing to meet required academic standards.
Calhoun had surgery last month on a hip he fractured in a cycling accident. He missed eight games last season to have back surgery in February to remove a disk fragment that had been pressing on a spinal nerve. In January 2010, he took a seven-game leave for an undisclosed illness.
Calhoun had his cancerous prostate removed in 2003 and was treated for a second skin cancer in 2008.
“I always said that I would know when it was time, whenever that might be,” Calhoun said. “The hip injury really didn’t enter into the decision, except that it gave me more time to think about it and the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that this was the right time to move on to the next phase of my life.”
Assistant coach Kevin Ollie will replace Calhoun for the 2012-13 season and said he’s “honored and humbled.”
“I cannot put into words how grateful I am to coach Jim Calhoun,” Ollie said. “Coach Calhoun brought me here to Connecticut right out of high school and has mentored me into the person I have become today.”
Ollie, 39, was a two-time team captain under Calhoun at UConn, graduating from the university in 1995, and has spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the Huskies after a 13-year career in the National Basketball Association.
“We’re going to have bumps in the road,” Calhoun said. “We’ve had them in the past. But we’re 16 months removed from a national championship. We’re going forward. So many things are in place for us to go even farther than we have already.”
Calhoun will remain affiliated with the program as a special assistant to Athletic Director Warde Manuel, helping specifically with fundraising.
Before joining Connecticut, Calhoun, who was born in the Boston suburb of Braintree, Massachusetts, spent 14 years at Northeastern University. He went 248-137, spearheading the school’s climb to Division I status from Division II and making five NCAA tournament appearances.
After going 9-19 in his first season at UConn in 1986-87, Calhoun’s teams made a postseason tournament in 24 of the next 25 years. The Huskies won 30 or more games eight times under Calhoun, with 10 Big East regular-season championships and seven conference tournament titles.
Peter F. Burns Jr., author of “Shock the World: UConn Basketball in the Calhoun Era,” said Calhoun is the best program builder in the sport’s history as well as the premiere coach of his generation.
“In 26 years, Jim Calhoun changed a college basketball program, a university, a state, and college basketball,” Burns said in an e-mail. “UConn is the best power ever produced by the Big East. UConn basketball sparked state legislators’ interest in the university, which led to billion dollar investments in UConn; the team’s success led to academic improvements to UConn as well.”
Calhoun’s 2011 title, which made him at 68 the oldest coach to win a championship, wasn’t without controversy.
Less than two months before Connecticut beat Butler University in the title game, Calhoun received a three-game ban from the NCAA for failing to monitor recruiting violations that included more than $6,000 in improper benefits given to a former player. The coach was forced to sit out the Huskies’ first three Big East games last season, when the Huskies went 20-14 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Calhoun in 2010 agreed to a five-year contract worth $13 million that made him Connecticut’s highest-paid state employee. He received $2.7 million for the 2011-12 season, including $375,000 in base salary and $2.33 million in speaking and media fees, according to the university. Calhoun was set to earn $3 million in each of the final two years of the contract, which ran through the 2013-14 season.
Ollie will have a salary of $625,000 this season, which will give Calhoun and Manuel a chance to evaluate his debut as a head coach. Manuel said while it’s a short-term challenge, he has a “long-term vision” for Ollie.
“My first six years in the NBA, I didn’t have any guaranteed contract. So this is easy,” Ollie said. “This six months is going to be a great six months in the UConn basketball history and I’m going to make sure of that.”