Opinion: It's Time For Jim Calhoun To Go

Jim Calhoun has always been an abrasive, divisive figure, and UConn fans mostly like it that way.  They make no apologies for his apparent lack of social graces or their fearless loyalty to a man who has brought them three national championships, and nobody in their right mind could blame them.  Calhoun is the archetype of the rugged New Englander, and has earned himself a legendary career at UConn, not by being beloved, but by being himself. 

Calhoun doesn't apologize for his manner, which is about as easy for most people to love as jumping nude into a cactus patch.  He famously upbraided a reporter for suggesting he take a pay cut during hard economic times (which I applauded).  He apologized in form, but not in spirit, for the NCAA violations recently attributed to the program, the whole affair coming off more like "Up yours!" than "I'm sorry."

Calhoun is anything but a man who goes along to get along, and for years, he and athletics director Jeff Hathaway have been feuding.  Calhoun has made no secret of his distaste for Hathaway, even though the other high-profile coaches at Storrs reportedly get along with him.

As of Friday, Calhoun got his man.  Jeff Hathaway will be "retiring" from UConn, although everyone knows he was offered a take-it-or-leave-it buyout.  He was going to be fired if he left it.

According to some people in the know, Hathaway had one major opponent in the athletics department, and that happened to be Jim Calhoun.  Assuming that is so, it is a testament to the power of a hall of fame coach that he can get an athletics director, who has been in that position for eight years, fired after Calhoun was punished for not promoting an atmosphere of compliance by the NCAA.  New UConn president Susan Herbst hired a consulting firm to examine the athletics department (only one team of which has recently been in hot water with the NCAA, and that team was led by Calhoun) and concluded that Hathaway was the problem.

Maybe Hathaway was part of the problem, but it's hard to justify him being forced to leave and Calhoun driving that bus given the situation with the NCAA.

You can draw your own conclusions, of course, and UConn fans may have good reasons to disagree.  But it is the considered opinion of this writer that Jim Calhoun has entirely too much power at Connecticut for the good of the school or the athletics program. All Hathaway did was preside over an NCAA basketball championship in men's basketball, a BCS bowl for football, and the best women's basketball program in America regardless of their failure to win the 2012 Women's NCAA Tournament.  On the other side of the ledger, Hathaway has failed to replace a big-time fundraiser at the university, has presided over decreasing ticket sales.  These are not insignificant negatives, but seeing them as a firing offense, especially in the current context, is difficult.

Even though I am sometimes enchanted by Calhoun's curmudgeonly ways, and admire his self confidence and determination, I think that this incident virtually reeks of deliberate scapegoat-ism.  Somebody had to be sacrificed to appease the Accountability God, and the only possible conclusion for a new president was the AD, not the hall of famer who was apparently the most responsible.  It literally reeks of Calhoun's revenge, even though he has understandably denied it, and some reputable people doubt it.

With all that said, coach Calhoun, please just retire after this season.  Just go.  You have done enough, and it's time for you to enjoy a peaceful retirement where everyone fawns over you like they did John Wooden and Dean Smith.  Any transgressions, real or imagined, will be forgotten by anyone who might care.  But after what I am convinced is a naked display of power, you have become a major liability to the perception of your university, a perception that will only continue to decline as years go by with you at the helm.

Please coach.  Enough is enough.  A crusty curmudgeon can only be admired for so long, and then he becomes an unpleasant, bitter old man whom even fans of the school start to become uncomfortable with.  It happened to Adolph Rupp, and it will happen to you as well.  It is past time, but not too late.

Trust me, if you retire after this season, you'll be glad you did, and so will your fans.  They'll hate to see you go, but they know, just like I do, that too much power is a bad thing, and continuing too long is diminishing, just as the greatest, Muhammad Ali, learned, and the great Joe Paterno is busily learning now at Penn State. Learn better than them, and from others -- its time to leave the kids games behind.

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