Jim Calhoun, Urban Meyer: Florida Gators Find Parallels
Back in February 2003, Connecticut basketball was at a crossroads. Jim Calhoun, their national championship-winning, Hall of Fame coach, was diagnosed with cancer.
The Huskies had two options: start searching for a new coach or wait and hope that he gets better. The Huskies chose the latter and it paid off wonderfully.
Calhoun was away from UConn basketball for barely a week before returning, and was coaching again by the end of the month. UConn went on to the NCAA tournament and continued being an elite program.
However, UConn fans understood how close they had come to losing the coach who had made their program.
Flash forward to 2008. Jim Calhoun had another cancer scare (he's had three to date). This time, the treatment was during the offseason and Calhoun didn't miss a game before returning as head coach. Another bet, teetering on the edge of disaster.
Last year, Calhoun fell during a bike race, breaking several ribs. He finished the race and was hospitalized for a day. Once again, his medical leave occurred during the offseason, and he was back coaching for the season opener.
He also missed the opening round of the NCAA tournament in 2009 due to dehydration. After the win, he came back and the team went on to the Final Four before losing.
Now, Calhoun finds himself making news for his health once again. He is taking a leave of absence for medical reasons during conference play. Supposedly, the issue is not related to previous medical conditions, and has been labeled "stress related."
He is expected to miss no more than 10 days, but those 10 days include three games, two of which are against conference opponents.
Calhoun is a fighter. Any mortal man would have retired after 2003's dance with death, but Jim continued on.
UConn has enjoyed a lot of success thanks to Calhoun's non–retirement, too. In 2004, he led the Huskies to their second NCAA title. In 2009, they made the Final Four.
He has led them to a Tournament appearance every year this decade but 2007. UConn is elite thanks to Jim Calhoun.
The same could be said about the Florida Gators and Urban Meyer. He has taken the team from Zook's mediocrity to five consecutive top 20 rankings—AP no lower than 13th, Coaches poll no lower than 16th—and three BCS bowls.
Meyer and Calhoun share more than their stratospheric success, though. Like Calhoun, Meyer is a ticking medical time bomb.
Meyer almost retired thanks to "a stress-related medical condition." After 24 hours, he decided that he wanted to go out differently, and changed his retirement to a "leave of absence."
Barring a severe medical scare over the next eight months, that change means he'll be back before the 2010 season opener. However, there's no way to be sure.
Connecticut fans know this feeling all too well. Their coach leaves someone else in charge for a while then goes and gets healthy again.
The idea is, the school doesn't go after a head coach replacement, instead trusting their coach to return before the interim guy completely screws it up.
In basketball, the interim coach can only screw it up during the NCAA tournament. That is the only lose–and–you're–out scenario in the sport.
I suppose he could screw it up by coaching for more than a month, but expectations would be so low at that point that it wouldn't matter anyway. Thus, the tournament remains the only time for a true screw up.
College football is different, though. Every week of the season is lose–and–you're–out. If Meyer has a scare during the season, the Gator nation goes into full panic mode.
You think Tebow's concussion was a big deal? Imagine Coach Addz having to go up against Tennessee, LSU, FSU, Georgia, or Alabama.
That's a lot of pressure to put on a guy who might not even fully understand his side of the ball.
Like Huskies fans, Gators fans will always be living on the verge of a meltdown. Ideally, the coach gets healthy and continues to coach at a high level.
The odds do not favor that result though. That's like taking all of your money to Vegas once a year and betting it all on "00" and winning.
UConn has won for six years straight, but every health scare is a reminder of the inevitable. Eventually, your luck runs out and your team is left scrambling to replace a legend.
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