We’ll learn in the coming days or weeks whether or not Jim Calhoun decides to return for a 27th year at UConn’s helm. Hard to say right now what his decision will be.
Presuming he does return, however, there’s another step UConn needs to consider taking: naming a “coach-in-waiting,” like some other programs have done (including Syracuse, where longtime assistant Mike Hopkins will take over whenever Jim Boeheim decides enough’s enough).
UConn is getting killed on the recruiting trail now. Recruits have questions about Calhoun’s health and how long he’ll remain at the school. Calhoun is the program’s No. 1 selling point, and there isn’t even a close No. 2 (at least until a practice facility is built). It’s Calhoun who is the program-builder, the Hall of Famer, the owner of three national championship rings and – perhaps most importantly to top-notch recruits – who has put dozens of players in the NBA.
Recruits know Calhoun can’t be here forever. But when he leaves, it would be nice to know that his legacy, so to speak, will be carried on by another member of the UConn family. Presumably, that’ll be Kevin Ollie, who Calhoun seems to want as his successor. I don’t believe Ollie is ready to be head coach quite yet, but another two or three years of tutelage and he could be there. He’s already got tons of credentials on the recruiting trail, and tons of respect from current players.
Personally, I think Glen Miller deserves consideration, as well. But it seems Ollie is the man.
Will either be a better coach than, say, a Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens? Maybe not. But at UConn, I’m not sure Smart, Stevens or anybody can come in and replicate what Calhoun has done here. He’s one-of-a-kind. Replacing him with a UConn family tree member might be UConn’s best bet.
UConn is said to be considering the coach-in-waiting thing, among many options. Things will finally start getting more concrete once new A.D. Warde Manuel arrives. His first day on the job is Monday.
*** One other thing: there’s a lot of speculation whether Alex Oriakhi is planning to transfer. If UConn is barred from next year’s NCAA tournament, Oriakhi is the only current player who should be able to transfer to another school without having to sit out a year, since he’s the team’s lone senior-to-be.
I don’t know what is going through Alex’s mind right now, but here’s what his mother, Angela, told me a little over a week ago:
“We don’t have any plans of him going anywhere.”
And this: “One thing’s for sure: he loves Coach Calhoun to death. Nobody can complain about Coach Calhoun in front of him … he respects and loves Coach Calhoun.”
Did that change Thursday night? I don’t know, though Calhoun was pretty brutal on him. I’ve never sat directly behind UConn’s bench before, but that’s where my press seat was for the Iowa State game and, boy, Calhoun is rough.
At one point he screamed at Oriakhi, “Next G-D jump shot by a 6-5 guy, get out of the gym!” Later, he yelled at him, point blank, “You wanna get out of here, go ahead!”
Not that Oriakhi deserved any praise on Thursday, of course.