With the cold, dark month of February seeming to stretch endlessly before them, the UConn men’s basketball team has become a very visible bruise on an otherwise highly regarded university.
The hiring of Warde Manuel as the new athletic director for the reeling university will help, but he will ultimately suffer the same fate as Jeff Hathaway before him unless changes are made quickly.
He is stepping into a maelstrom of controversy. Jim Calhoun is quickly going from heroic to disgraced. UConn is becoming known as a school willing to sell out academically for strong athletics.
While it doesn’t necessarily sit well with me that this current UConn team is going to be penalized for the disgraceful performances in the classroom of the past, the team on the court hasn’t done much to prove they’d be looking at a tournament bid this or next year at any rate.
In this social media world we live in, this issue will not blow over—it must be addressed. Manuel has had an excellent career as the athletic director of the University of Buffalo, and in order for him to stick around in this position for longer than this postseason ban is in place, he must stick his flag in the ground and revamp the entire system.
According to reports by ESPN and CNN, Manuel has said academics will be a top priority. Unfortunately, that’s what they all say—Manuel needs to prove it. Nothing he can say, no memos or referendums he can send out will show he means business more than one action he can take: clean house.
Jim Calhoun is a Hall of Fame coach and he has earned a certain tenor of respect from the administration. The 69-year-old legend is currently away from the team debating whether he should have surgery for his Spinal Stenosis, a back issue that can result in severe pain. The man has survived cancer and five broken ribs in 2009.
It is his time to relinquish the reins. It was his time five years ago, but his bullheadedness won out. Now, if Manuel has any clout with the university, he will strongly suggest Calhoun steps down. If he refuses, Manuel should do everything in his power to make sure the three-time championship-winning coach does not coach another play on the UConn sidelines.
This will not bode well for the next few seasons. Recruits will be lost, a few players on the current team may transfer or leave for the NBA and the Huskies may be in the cellar of the Big East for a few years.
But this would give the disgraced team a chance to start fresh, regardless of the immediate consequences.
The obvious choice to fill the position would be Kevin Ollie. He’s been with the team for two years now, has NBA ties and was a very successful Huskies point guard, alongside Ray Allen, in the early '90s.
Time will tell if Manuel has what it takes.