If Jim Calhoun taught his players anything in his 39 years of coaching it’s perseverance. Battling through two bouts of cancer (prostate and skin), spinal stenosis, broken ribs and a broken hip, Calhoun remained a steady presence on the UConn bench since 1986, and at Northeastern for a good 14 years before that.
Now, after 39 years of coaching, Calhoun announced his retirement today, ending one of the most illustrious careers in NCAA history. His name will go down in the record books among the likes of Bobby Knight, John Wooden, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. Not bad company for a man whose playing experience consisted of just 4 years at American International College. Fittingly, Calhoun’s alma mater will face Connecticut in their season opener.
Calhoun finished his career with 873 wins, the sixth most wins in Division I history. Add three national championships to that and he’s certainly earned the spot he already holds in the Hall of Fame. But it’s the fact that Calhoun was even able to bring Connecticut to a championship level that is his true legacy.
It’s taken for granted today that UConn is one of the nation’s elite programs. Yet when Calhoun inherited the Huskies from Dom Perno in 1986, they were trapped in mediocrity, playing below .500 for the better part of a decade. And in Calhoun’s first season it was much of the same; the team went 9-19.
But since that time, UConn has not had a losing season and failed to make the NCAA Tournament just seven times in 25 years. Considering they made the tournament just six times in the 25 years before he took over, Calhoun’s impact on the program has been colossal. Not only has Connecticut churned out more wins with him at the helm, but they have also produced quite a few succesful pros. Cliff Robinson, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva, Rudy Gay and Kemba Walker all have Calhoun to thank for much of their success.
Some of these players were involved with Calhoun in some of college basketball’s most memorable moments as well. Ray Allen helped UConn win the 1996 Big East Championship over Allen Iverson and Georgetown with a huge game winning shot. Rip Hamilton scored the game winning bucket at the buzzer in UConn’s 1998 win over Washington in the Sweet Sixteen. Kemba Walker contributed in the Huskies six overtime loss to Syracuse in 2009, the second longest game in NCAA history. These moments have all gone down in basketball lore as some of the sport’s greatest games and Calhoun played a big part in all of them.
After 39 years of coaching, Jim Calhoun impressed in many ways. But a more impressive feat than those long years spent coaching are his 45 years of marriage to his wife Pat. Now, at 70 years of age, Calhoun can spend time focusing on family and health, without having to worry about the success of the UConn basketball program. He made sure that program wouldn’t be worrying anyone for a long time.