Published September 14. 2012 4:00AM
Connecticut and its state university will never see the likes of him courtside again. Whether it was screaming at his team for failing to get back on defense, berating a reporter for asking a question he felt was inappropriate or stupid, or expressing frustration with the NCAA, Jim Calhoun was a battler.
But, boy, could he recruit and coach.
When he arrived as basketball coach of the University of Connecticut in May 1986, the state university was a perennial also ran in the still young Big East Conference. In the years to come Mr. Calhoun would convince some of the best high school basketball prospects in the country that the remote UConn campus in Storrs was the place where they wanted to pursue their basketball careers and, to varying degrees, their educations.
And when he announced his retirement from coaching Thursday at age 70, his place in the college section of the Basketball Hall of Fame already secured, Mr. Calhoun left behind an impressive legacy. His teams won three national championships and 17 Big East conference tournament and regular season titles during his 26 years at UConn. His 873 career wins place him sixth all-time among Division 1 coaches.
His overall record at UConn was a dazzling 625-243.
Coach Calhoun became part of the fabric of the university and the state. Unlike many of his fellow successful coaches, he chose not to move on to bigger universities or more storied programs, but instead focused on turning UConn into a storied basketball school. He clearly loved being a college coach, energized by demanding the most of his young athletes and the challenge of landing new recruits each year. His former players, including many men who went on to NBA careers, showed great loyalty, returning for his charity tournaments and other reunions.
Through his own philanthropy and ability to fund raise, Mr. Calhoun has been very involved in charities, including the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiac Center at the UConn Health Center, the Autism Speaks network and cancer research.
Was he perfect? Hardly. Mr. Calhoun's tirades against reporters who dare ask uncomfortable questions bordered on bullying. And he leaves a program dealing with a one-year NCAA tournament ban due to sub-par academic performance by past teams, though scores have improved since.
But his contributions to UConn, the state and to charities far exceed any flaws. He did it his way.