Jim Calhoun's Hall of Fame career at UConn is coming to a close — most likely in the next year or two. Calhoun is almost 70 years old, has constant health issues and his contract is up in 2014.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the UConn program, including NCAA sanctions and postseason bans, the choice of Calhoun's successor is crucial if UConn wants to maintain their status among the elite programs in college basketball.
Calhoun has turned a farm town in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Conn., into a premier basketball destination. This should attract several prominent names as potential replacements for Calhoun.
Among the sure-to-be lengthy list of potential candidates, these seven names make the top of the list.
Buzz Williams is one of the elite coaches in all of college basketball. His Marquette teams consistently overachieve, which is an accurate indicator of a coach's ability to get the most out of his talent.
In his four years as head coach, he has reached the NCAA tourney each year, with consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in the last two seasons. Williams' career record at Marquette is 96-44, including 46-26 in the Big East, arguably the best conference in the country.
Williams has shown a good eye for spotting under-the-radar talent. 2012 Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder, 2012 First Team All Big East guard Darius Johnson-Odom and 2011 NBA draft pick Jimmy Butler all played at community colleges prior to becoming Marquette recruits.
Williams' energy on the sidelines is contagious, as his players always play with maximum effort.
He demands the most from his team, and the results speak for themselves. Williams has shown the ability to find and develop talent and consistently win in a power conference. UConn would be lucky to have a coach of his caliber.
Scott Drew has taken a scandal-ridden, consistently losing Baylor program and turned them into a national powerhouse.
In just four years, Drew took Baylor from an 8-21 record in 2003-04 to an NCAA Tournament berth in 2008. It was their first in 20 years.
Two years later, he had Baylor in the Elite Eight, and just this past season, Baylor made another Elite Eight appearance, falling to eventual champion Kentucky.
Perhaps Drew's most evident ability is his knack for attracting top-level talent. Until Drew's arrival, Baylor was a perennial cellar dweller in the Big 12. Yet somehow Drew has consistently convinced elite recruits to come play for his Baylor Bears. This year alone, Baylor is projected to have three NBA draft picks — Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, and Quincy Miller — something unheard of for the program until Drew's amazing rebuilding job.
If Drew can bring his recruiting skills and winning ways to Storrs, UConn would be in good hands going forward.
Smart seems to be everyone’s choice as the next great thing in college basketball coaching. His success at VCU is undeniable.
A Final Four in 2011 followed by another win in the first round of this year’s tourney is an impressive resume for a coach of a mid-major program. His 84-27 career record is incredible, even in a non-power conference like the Colonial Athletic Association.
Smart's players love playing for him, and he obviously gets the most out of his talent. A young, energetic up-and-comer might be exactly what UConn needs as they begin the post-Calhoun era.
While his personality and coaching style may be the opposite of Calhoun's, Smart's ability to win big games is very similar.
Hoiberg is a local legend in Ames, Iowa, where he starred in high school and college, and he is currently the head coach of his alma mater, Iowa State.
He has turned the struggling Cyclone program around in only a couple years—including a convincing defeat of UConn in the first round of this year’s tournament.
Iowa State had four consecutive losing seasons before Hoiberg took over, and within two years they had won an NCAA tourney game en route to a 23-11 finish.
Hoiberg has shown a knack for attracting talent to Ames, and he seems to get the most out of his team. Hoiberg’s NBA experience, both as a player and in the front office for the Minnesota Timberwolves, gives him a good eye for talent, and he also has an understanding of what it takes to improve and succeed on the court.
Just like Iowa State, UConn is not a perennial pipeline of McDonald’s All-Americans. Hoiberg has demonstrated an ability to win without top-rated recruits. His keen eye for talent and ability to develop players would be a perfect fit for UConn.
Stevens is a long-shot to take any job, let alone UConn's. He has made it clear, as of right now at least, that he is not interested in leaving Butler.
But as we all have seen, when luring a coach who is claiming loyalty to their current program, money talks.
Stevens took a mid-major program in Butler to the NCAA Championship game two years in a row, and he was a few inches away from winning the 2010 title on a Gordon Hayward half-court buzzer beater. That is an accomplishment I would be surprised to ever see repeated.
Stevens’ teams play suffocating man-to-man defense and are always fundamentally sound, which are two traits Calhoun is known for drilling into his teams. Stevens has shown an ability to handle pressure and keep his team focused in big moments, which there will be plenty of while coaching a Big East power like UConn.
Few is another long-shot, but he's another great fit to succeed the legendary Calhoun.
In 13 seasons at Gonzaga, Few is yet to miss the NCAA tourney (something even UConn can’t claim). His career record with the Zags is 342-90, including 11 West Coast Conference regular season championships and nine conference tournament championships.
It must be mentioned that Gonzaga’s conference pales in comparison to the Big East. However, Gonzaga plays a loaded non-conference schedule every year, so Few’s winning percentage is not watered down by the mediocre WCC.
Few has also shown the ability to win without a roster full of 5-star recruits and McDonald’s All-Americans—something Calhoun has done for 26 years. Few has the experience and winning pedigree to be an ideal replacement for Calhoun.
If Calhoun is allowed to appoint his successor, and he has undoubtedly earned that right, Kevin Ollie is his clear choice. It has been no secret around UConn circles that Ollie was brought in specifically to be groomed as Calhoun’s heir apparent.
In his two years on staff, working mostly with guards, Ollie has shown the impact he can have. In his first season as an assistant, Ollie worked extensively with Kemba Walker, helping Kemba play more under control and not force the action.
It is no coincidence that Walker’s historic 2010-11 season coincided with Ollie’s addition to the UConn bench. This past year saw the emergence of Jeremy Lamb, whose ball-handling was greatly improved under Ollie’s tutelage.
Given the current nature of recruiting in college basketball, Ollie’s skills on the recruiting trail are equally as important as his on-court instruction.
Last offseason, Ollie played a major role in landing Andre Drummond, who, at that time, was the most heralded recruit in UConn’s history. This year, Omar Calhoun is the prized recruit, and again, it was Kevin Ollie who played the biggest role in his recruitment.
Any concerns about Jim Calhoun being too old and out of touch to convince the best high school players to commit to his program have been alleviated by Ollie’s presence on the staff.
Ollie's familiarity with the UConn program would serve him well if he were to replace his former coach. He understands how Calhoun runs the program and the type of player it takes to succeed. Ollie's UConn and NBA experience make him the best candidate to replace Jim Calhoun.