Ollie's future in question after disappointing season-ending loss

There will be questions about the job security of UConn head coach Kevin Ollie following a 14-18 season an early exit from the American Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday. (AP file photo)
There will be questions about the job security of UConn head coach Kevin Ollie following a 14-18 season an early exit from the American Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday. (AP file photo)

Orlando, Fla. — Shortly after a disappointing season ended with a thud on Thursday, UConn coach Kevin Ollie was asked the burning question.

"Do you expect to be back next year?"

"Yes," Ollie said during the post-game press conference.

And that was it.

Whether Ollie returns for his seventh season is still up in the air after the Huskies were eliminated in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament for the first time and finished 14-18.

An 80-73 loss to SMU at the Amway Center sent UConn home early.

Even with three years and roughly $10 million remaining on his contract, Ollie's job is in jeopardy.

As the losses have mounted, Ollie's been the target of frequent criticism from the UConn fan base. The Huskies posted consecutive losing seasons, going 30-35 overall. The last time that happened: 1985-86  and 1986-87 when they went 12-16 in Dom Perno's final season and 9-19 in Jim Calhoun's first.

Athletic director David Benedict watched Thursday's defeat. He plans to evaluate Ollie and speak to players in the upcoming weeks. He declined to put a timetable on the process.

"We just got done with the season," Benedict said. "Emotionally, very disappointed. But I'm not going to make specific comments right now. I've got to sit down and have a little time to reflect. We didn't meet the expectations we had for our program."

Benedict responded this way when asked if a coaching change was on the table: "I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions at this point and time."

Ollie, who won a national championship in his second season (2013-14) and led UConn to two NCAA trips and an NIT appearance, plans to do his own evaluation.

"I'm going to assess everything that I've done as a coach and see how I can get better," Ollie said. "I can't name (what's on) the list but we don't want to be here. And that's unacceptable and we have to get better in every category."

Ollie has his loyal supporters in the locker room.

Junior Jalen Adams and sophomore Christian Vital both back Ollie.

"I definitely stand for him," Adams said. "I think he's a great coach and he knows what he's doing. He's drawn up good plays. I definitely think he deserves his job and should be back here coaching at UConn. He loves UConn. And he would do anything for UConn.

"Once you get a guy like that, there's nothing better than that. I don't care what the critics say and what the wins and losses look like ... obviously, that matters. It's a process. It's not just going to happen overnight."

Vital addressed the criticism of Ollie, saying the players should take some responsibility for the lack of success.

"He's a great coach," Vital said. "Everyone has a whole bunch to say from the outside, but they don't know what it is like being in the gym, him supporting us and stuff like that. I'll leave everyone else to be negative from the outside. But I fully support him. That's just it."

The Huskies are losing three players — graduate transfers Antwoine Anderson and David Onuorah and redshirt junior Terry Larrier, who has a year of eligibility remaining but plans on pursuing a professional career.

For the second time in recent weeks, Adams, a junior guard and team's leading scorer, responded to a question about his future.

"I plan on coming back next year," he said.

But will Ollie be on the sideline?

g.keefe@theday.com

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