NCAA Coaching Greats: Can We Put Jim Calhoun in This Sacred Category?
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On Monday night, the Connecticut Huskies claimed the National Championship with a 53-41 victory over the Butler Bulldogs. It capped a storybook season that included the Huskies not being ranked at the beginning of the year, to going 9-9 in pool play, to winning five straight games in five days in the Big East Tournament, and then finally six straight wins in route to a National Championship.
This marks the third National Championship for coach Jim Calhoun and at 68, he's the oldest coach to ever win the National Championship, beating Phog Allen who was 66 when he won his last National Title.
This milestone of three has only been achieved by a couple of other legendary coaches such as John Wooden, Bob Knight, Coach K and Adolph Rupp. Can we compare Calhoun to those three coaches, or does he have more to prove?
He started off as the head coach of Northeastern University and raised that program from the depths of college basketball. Reaching the NCAA Tournament five times as an automatic qualifier, Calhoun remains as the winningest coach in school history.
His remarkable job got him hired by Connecticut in 1986, and the new found talent he had at Connecticut made them a national powerhouse under Calhoun. In his twenty-five years at UCONN, he's led his team to six NIT appearances, including a championship in 1988.
He has led the Huskies to sixteen NCAA Tournament appearances, which includes nine trips to the Elite Eight, four trips to the Final Four, and of course the three National Championships.
He was named the consensus AP Coach of the Year in 1990, which was also the year Connecticut won its first Big East Tournament Title. All in all, this is a solid resume for being one of the greats, but all the other coaches I named above have done this much and more.
Wooden, known as "The Wizard of Westwood," led UCLA to ten NCAA Championships in a twelve year span; he was named Coach of the Year in college basketball seven different times. We can also never forget when he led the Bruins to 88 straight victories that was surpassed this year by the UCONN Women's Team.
Over this streak, this featured two of the most dominant players that changed the game; Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. He isn't in the top five for wins all-time but that is because he cut his coaching days short when he retired at age 65 with already 664 victories.
Knight, who made his name at Indiana, has recorded three National Championships including an undefeated season in 1976 when he went 32-0. He would follow up that with National Championships in 1981 and 1987. He currently has the most wins in college basketball with 902, and there are talks of him coming back to coach to continue his legacy.
In his twenty-nine years at Indiana, he led the Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament in twenty four of those years, a truly remarkable mark. He is also the only coach to win an NCAA championship, NIT championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. He's a coach who has always been passionate about his coaching and isn't afraid to show it with many controversial incidents, including throwing a chair across the court while a player was shooting a free throw, or choking one of his players during practice. He is already in the Hall of Fame, and a great mind of the game.
Coach K, who currently coaches for Duke, has led the Blue Devils to four National Championships, including 11 Final Fours which is the second all-time. He has also coached Team USA in many international appearances, including an Olympic Gold Medal in 2008 with the "Redeem Team."
In his 31 years at Duke, he has led the Blue Devils to the NCAA Tournament in 28 out of the 31 years. He is second on the all-time coaching wins list, just two behind Bob Knight. He has turned Duke into the powerhouse of college basketball, and could keep coaching for at least another 10-15 years, giving people the question, how many wins can he achieve?
Many believe Calhoun has achieved this "Great Coach" legacy with his three National Championships, but there are still critics out there. I believe that he is because his resume compares to that of most of the coaches I've mentioned above. He has also led a lowly Northeastern team to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances which allowed him to get his shot at Connecticut.
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