Jim Calhoun’s illustrious career as UConn men’s head basketball coach came to an end this week, and in noting Calhoun’s health woes and sanctions levied against the Huskies, the Daily News’ Filip Bondy admits, “it isn’t much fun to pile on the guy.” Judging from what comes next, you could’ve fooled me. “The fans never really wanted to know how Calhoun (above, left) managed this magical recruiting,” snears Bondy, “the same way picnickers don’t want to know how hot dogs are made.” Wait, with lots of TLC, right?
Calhoun’s rosters typically posted a graduation rate under 30%, only a fraction of that caused by players turning pro. Through that time, very clearly, the UConn athletic department and administration tacitly approved of Calhoun’s methods. His long-time athletic director and apologist, Jeff Hathaway, would point to increases in applicants to the school as evidence of Calhoun’s great works. Hathaway never mentioned that nearly 70% of those accepted never enrolled in the university.
Calhoun’s ethical problems dated back as far as 1995, when players Ricky Moore and Kirk King reportedly accepted airline tickets from an agent. You can forgive Calhoun that. No coach is omnipotent. But much more recently in 2009, a team manager offered a recruit, Nate Miles, free room and board. And in 2010, while the NCAA was completing an investigation into recruiting violations against the program, Hathaway rushed to rehire Calhoun at $13 million over five years. Calhoun again survived what the NCAA found to be a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. Instead, a Huskie assistant coach and director of basketball operations became scapegoats.
He would never quit. The bigger question was always whether Calhoun cared to learn any lessons, or whether he’d become too arrogant and armored for introspection. In August of 2011, long overdue, UConn’s new president, Susan Herbst, began an in-house study of the athletic department’s academic performance and fund-raising methods. Soon Hathaway retired and now Calhoun is departing. Many students and alumni will honor the coach on his way out the door. That’s the way it always is with guys who win championships, even if they do it in a way that circumvents the rules.