Jim Calhoun led the Connecticut Huskies to three NCAA championships, four Final Four berths and seven Big East Tournament titles in his 26-year coaching career, but now the program must step into a new era.
Calhoun's announcement that he will retire on Thursday (via the New York Daily News) turns a new page in Storrs, Conn. Calhoun's former player and assistant coach, Kevin Ollie, will take over on the sidelines (via the Hartford Courant), but how do you replace someone with his success and experience?
You simply can't do it. Connecticut's program will take a step back, and it's not necessarily the university's fault. Calhoun was just that good.
This is a coach with 873 career wins. Granted, only 629 of those came as the Huskies' coach, but that doesn't change his impact on the UConn program.
The Huskies haven't had a losing record since Calhoun's debut—in 1986. They have been one of the country's most consistent programs, and they did it without blue-chip players the majority of the time.
Sure, they had their Rudy Gays and Richard Hamiltons, but Calhoun created a foundation based on blue-collar, hard-working talents. Those players seemed to identify with him, and they bought into his system.
He got every ounce out of every player, and he knew how to manage his team in big games.
Just look at the big games in which the Huskies emerged victorious. How about Tate George's famous buzzer-beater to beat Clemson in the 1990 NCAA tournament? Or Hamilton's less famous, but no less miraculous, game-winner against Washington in the 1998 tournament?
Calhoun was instrumental in keeping his team focused during those critical moments. And who could forget the Huskies' 2011 national-championship run? With or without Kemba Walker, that was Calhoun's most impressive effort.
The Huskies have played with a chip on their shoulders for years, just like Calhoun coached. Ollie comes from Calhoun's system, so you'd like to think that will stay the same, but his coaching philosophy could be completely different.
It's hard to replace a legend. Saying Connecticut will never get back to its peak again would be presumptuous, but it's going to take a while.
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