Coach Jim Calhoun Not Retiring: What's Next for the UConn Huskies

Tom SmithCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2010

You may have heard of Jim Calhoun.

He has been the head coach of the UConn Huskies men's basketball team for 24 seasons.

He has led the Huskies to nine Big East regular season titles, six Big East tournament titles, two NCAA National Championships (1999, 2004) and to the Final Four in 2009.

He has over 800 wins, and was elected to to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.

Despite all he has accomplished, and all he has done for the University of Connecticut (way beyond basketball), he was still forced to issue a statement the day after UConn was eliminated from the Big East tournament declaring his intent to sign a contract extension and remain the coach at UConn for the foreseeable future.

Calhoun is 67 years old. He has beaten cancer three times, and he had to take a 23-day medical leave of absence from the team this season. He also had to endure one of the more trying seasons on the court as he's ever had while at UConn.

It is probably for these reasons that some irresponsible hack (I refuse to use his name) on the SNY TV network made an on-air statement hours before the Huskies first-round BET game against St. John's that "sources close to Jim Calhoun believe he will retire at season's end."

There was an immediate rebuttal from Jeff Calhoun, the coach's son. A short time later, the coach himself refuted the statement, essentially saying that the rumor was beyond ridiculous.

Still, the damage was done. Once UConn went down in shockingly awful fashion to St. John's, the man who has devoted a third of his life to this school had to fight rapidly spreading speculation that he would be stepping down.

Recruiting is a fragile art. The mere hint of a coach leaving is all the ammunition rival coaches need to drive a wedge between a recruit and the school that obtained the verbal commitment.

For the past couple seasons, Coach has preferred to essentially chill for a few months before making any decisions on his future. No such luxury this year.

Just three days after the Huskies were eliminated from the BET, Calhoun felt the need to make his announcement.

It should be noted that no contract has been signed at this point. That still seems a bit odd given that negotiations have been going on for almost a year.

Regardless, between the statement from Coach and a separate statement from the athletic director, there is no doubt that Calhoun will return.

"I think it is important for me to put the recent questions about my future to rest and make it clear that I will be signing a new contract at UConn," Calhoun said in a statement issued by the university.

I have read countless opinion pieces on national sites and local blogs that have called for Calhoun to "step down."

Some have cited his recent health issues, and claimed to be speaking in the coach's "best interest." Others, unimaginably to any Huskies fan pre-Calhoun, claim that the game has passed the old man by.

The "well-meaning" pieces are one thing, although they fairly well ignore the small matter that Coach and his wife are about the only people that should be deciding what is in his "best interest."

The articles that fell in the latter camp—the ones that stated that the man just didn't have what it took any longer—well, those steam me up.

Were they not paying attention last year? The Huskies were a healthy Jerome Dyson away from a third National Championship. Also in this group are the scribes and comment posters who claim that Coach can't recruit with the big boys any more. "Where's our John Wall?" they cry.

Guess what—Coach doesn't want a "John Wall" and neither do I. UConn is not some factory for "one-and-done" players, and I'm actually proud of that.

Bottom line? Jim Calhoun has unequivocally earned the right, as much as anyone ever has, to decide for himself when he should step down. It should be assumed every year that he's coming back—until he tells us otherwise.

I believe that Coach Calhoun will stay at UConn until he is certain that it is in a good place for the future, which would include the ability to essentially name a successor. We're not there yet. There's still work to do on both fronts.

What's next for UConn in the immediate sense? The NIT.

There has been some speculation over the last week or so as to whether or not UConn should even accept an invitation to the NIT were one offered.

I can tell you without doubt that such speculation is absurd. There is no doubt on the coaching staff or the athletic department about going to the NIT. I guess sometimes sportswriters just need something to write, so they invent controversy.

The NIT will always hold a special place in Calhoun's heart, and the hearts of all Huskies fans of a certain age. UConn's rise to national prominence began by winning the NIT in 1988.

I remember Phil Gamble, Clifford Robinson, and the team celebrating upon their return to campus. I remember the bonfires we set outside our dorms (Oops, don't tell anyone about that one!).

That was a big deal for UConn. Two years later, the Huskies had their "Dream Season" that included the school's first Big East championship and a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight.

UConn's current seniors, Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, and Gavin Edwards, don't want a 17-15 season as their legacy. Coach doesn't want to have them remembered that way, either.

These kids care about the school, their coach, and their legacies a lot more than the comment posters to the Hartford Courant think they do.

They are good kids, and any opportunity to extend their careers will be enthusiastically accepted by both Coach Calhoun and the athletic department. Bank on it.

Now, they just need to win some games...