Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Assessing Kevin Ollie's First Two Years at UConn's Helm

Let's take a moment to appreciate the terrific job Kevin Ollie has done as UConn's head coach since taking over for Jim Calhoun prior to last season.

“You could just see the confidence his team has played with,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, a longtime friend of Ollie’s who’ll match wits with him in Friday night’s Sweet 16 battle at Madison Square Garden. “Even last year, when they couldn’t play in the postseason, just to see what he was starting … It’s hard to do. People don’t really realize how difficult it is to replace a legend like Jim Calhoun.”

St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli echoed those sentiments last week.

“You’re replacing a guy that’s hung all those banners, who’s in the Hall of Fame,” Martelli noted. “Sometimes, guys from the NBA don’t always get college basketball. But Kevin Ollie … he gets it.”

Ollie’s not the first coach to have immediate success after taking over for a legend. Mike Davis replaced Bob Knight at Indiana in 2000 and, the following season, had the Hoosiers in the national championship game. Four years after that, however, he resigned. Bill Guthridge took over for Dean Smith in 1997 and led the Tar Heels to the Final Four that season and again two years later before retiring.

Here's guessing Ollie has a bit more staying power than Davis and Guthridge.

I spoke with Davis, who's now in his second season as head coach at Texas Southern, by phone on Tuesday night. From afar, he's been very impressed by what Ollie's done.

“I think he’s done a terrific job,” said Davis, "especially coming into a situation where they couldn’t go to the postseason the first year, and having really good players stay and play for him. That speaks volumes for him and his team.”

Davis’s situation was a little different than Ollie’s. Knight was fired just before the start of the 2000 season as a result of numerous issues, including choking a player at practice. Calhoun, of course, simply retired.
“It’s always tough (replacing a legend),” Davis continued. “You’re never going to replace him. Normally, it’s the guy after you that’s able to coach the team (better).”

Davis added that he didn’t really feel pressure at first, everything happened so quickly. But once he realized the demands at IU – anything short of a Sweet 16 was considered a massive failure – the pressure really got to him. He resigned after six years on the job. After six more seasons at Alabama-Birmingham, Davis is now in his second season as head man at Texas Southern, whom he just led to an NCAA tourney appearance.

He's never met Ollie, but keeps an eye on the job he's doing.

“As a player, he was a guy that always made the team because of his work ethic,” Davis noted. “As a coach, you see the passion and love for the players and university that he has.”

Here's our story for tomorrow's Register looking at all the positives (and a few negatives) from Ollie's first two seasons tv the helm.

*** Here's one small item that didn't make the story: per Ollie’s contract, he receives one month's annual base salary ($33,333) for reaching the NCAA tourney, one month for reaching the regional semifinals, one month for reaching the Final Four and two months for winning the national title. Thus far, he's earned $66,666, with the chance to earn $99,999 more.

Ollie also gets a $10,000 payment for an annual APR score of 930 or better in a single year. UConn is expected to get a perfect APR of 1,000 for the 2012-13 season.

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