Calhoun, 'a legend,' passes torch to former player Ollie

Jim Calhoun announces his retirement Thursday as UConn men's basketball coach. He will be succeed by assistant Kevin Ollie, standing next to Calhoun.
Jim Calhoun announces his retirement Thursday as UConn men's basketball coach. He will be succeed by assistant Kevin Ollie, standing next to Calhoun. Dana Jensen/The Day

Storrs – Jim Calhoun officially retired at an afternoon press conference, ending a Hall of Fame career that covered 40 years, including 26 as UConn men's basketball coach.

Standing at the podium on the Gampel Pavilion floor, Calhoun grew emotional at times, addressing a crowd of former players, ex-assistants, students, administrators, current Huskies and family members, including his wife, Pat, sons, Jim Jr. and Jeff, and six grandchildren.

"I feel so blessed today that I've had an opportunity to coach at UConn," Calhoun said. "It's never been about me. I've just been the focal point. I know sometime I was a loud and visible focal point. The old expression, you've got to keep going in one direction. I thought the direction was we could do anything. And I feel that today… We're in great shape."

Calhoun, 70, who led the Huskies to three national championships, received a rousing standing ovation when he finished his remarks. He'll remain involved with the program and UConn as a special assistant to athletic director Warde Manuel. His arrangement runs through March, 21, 2013, and he will become head coach emeritus upon his full retirement.

Kevin Ollie, who played for Calhoun and has been an assistant the past two seasons following a 13-year NBA career, was introduced as the 18th coach in UConn history. He signed a one-year contract for annualized rate of $625,000.

In one of his last acts as head coach, Calhoun showed up at the basketball office this morning and addressed his team before the press conference. After contemplating retirement for the last couple of years, he finally came to his decision during idle days recovering from a broken hip suffered in a bicycle accident Aug. 4.

"He's leaving happy," Pat Calhoun said. "He has no regrets. He's comfortable."

UConn president Susan Herbst spoke about Calhoun's contributions as a coach and a man.

"This is a tough day for UConn, the state of Connecticut and our fans and alumni throughout the nation," Herbst said. "It's a moment of sorrow, of celebration and admiration, most of all, for someone who has been a pillar of this community for over 25 years.

"… I can't tell you how many young men, students, former students, staffers, fans, that told me that Jim is like a second father to them. There's no better praise. And this, more than basketball, is his real legacy. He's a legend and he's our legend. He brought us tremendous joy."

The torch was officially passed after Manuel introduced Ollie who's taking on a huge challenge of replacing a coaching legend in his first college head coaching job.

Manuel addressed the reasoning behind Ollie's one-year contract.

"It's never easy replacing a legend," Manuel said. "This will be a transition that's tough. … Kevin has been working tirelessly to prepare himself for this opportunity. … Kevin is ready to do the work that must be done. As head coach, I know he will do it well. I will be there every step of the way to support his efforts.

"… In my mind, we have a long-term vision for Kevin. But it is a short-term challenge. I haven't seen him coach and he's never been a head coach. .. This is a commitment to him to see what he's like as a head coach."

Ollie, a native of Los Angeles, gave an inspiring speech, fighting back tears when he talking about his family. He spoke of striving for excellence on the court and in the classroom and his love for the university.

"Giving me this opportunity is a dream come true," Ollie said. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. … I was made for this job."

Calhoun heaped praise on his former point guard and two-year captain.

"Kevin Ollie, simply put, epitomizes what we want a UConn athlete, a UConn student, to be all about," Calhoun said. "When you say that about him, that's heavy stuff. … Any foxhole you need to jump in, there's your guy."

The hiring of Ollie met the approval of the current UConn players.

"A lot of guys are happy with that," Tyler Olander said. "He's a familiar face. We know what he is all about and what he expects, and we're ready for that."

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