clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is it time for Calhoun to step away?

As if the past week-plus hasn't already been a punch in the gut for UConn fans, today comes along and lays a Hacksaw Jim Duggan-sized haymaker on all of Connecticut.

Coach Cal, the messiah of the UConn basketball program for ... ever, will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team, at the behest of his personal physician. 

Here's what his physician had to say about the matter in a statement released by the university and widely circulated by about every news outlet in the U.S., as well as whatever godforsaken place Syracuse fans congregate:

It is my recommendation that Coach Calhoun take a medical leave from his coaching position to address some temporary medical issues, none of which involve any previous medical conditions that he has dealt with.

The most important thing, of course, is Cal's health (as Porter already pointed out). Everyone -- even his sworn enemies (which can basically be found everywhere except Connecticut and a secluded domicile in Jersey) -- wants him on the sidelines, pulling Stanley Robinson after less than a minute and cursing out his players before the season is over. Although Blane Dog will surely do a good job in his stead -- as he's done countless times before -- he's no Cal. And UConn basketball without Cal isn't something I want to see in the next decade.

But it's important -- even in this depressing-as-all-hell time -- that we ponder the future of the program. And, more importantly, the future of Cal.

No one knows for sure how long he'll be out; this whole thing could be over soon, and SI's Luke Winn is even reporting that Cal may be back in time for the Texas game this weekend. But ever since hearing Fox Sport's Jon Goodman basically break the news live on Jason Page's show, I've digested everything out there on the subject ... and I can't help feel like this may ultimately bring about the end of Jim Calhoun's reign as head coach of the UConn Huskies. And how that actually may be for the best.

Maybe this won't be the last time Calhoun takes the sidelines. Maybe he'll return for the highly anticipated matchup with the Longhorns. Maybe his emergence from the Gampel Pavilion bowels will cause the stadium and pretty much all of Connecticut to erupt in joy -- much in the same way it did when he returned to the court following his first bout of cancer and I couldn't hear myself talk, even in the nosebleeds. Maybe he'll provide the team with an emotional spark and the Huskies will knock off the No. 1 team in the country, just as Kansas State did last night.

But if he does return, this won't be the last time I'll have to sit here and ponder whether or not Calhoun will -- or should -- return.

If Winn's sources are, in fact, correct, then this whole thing will likely be forgotten by this time next week. But it won't be forgotten by Cal's body or by the man himself.

The one product of this whole fiasco, regardless of the outcome, is the realization that Cal is human. And at age 67 with three bouts of cancer and 22 years of coaching behind him, he's a frail one. As Porter noted, this news, if nothing else, reminds you that the end could be near. 

And if it doesn't, perhaps this will: Calhoun has missed all or part of 21 games in his career. Or maybe this: In the past two years, Calhoun has now dealt with nine health-related issues (some serious, some only minor).

I, like everyone else, don't want to see Calhoun go. As I said the last time talk of Cal's retirement was brought up (a mere nine months ago), I'm willing to have him as long as he's willing to stand on the sidelines and glare down one of his players without uttering a word.

But the reasons I love Cal are the the same reasons why I think it may be time for him to step aside.

He's a brash, combative sonuvabitch who has probably chalked up more youtubeable quotes than wins the past four years.  And even if this latest health scare turns out to be a major medical problem, I'd expect the athletics department to roll him onto the court in a hospital bed, IVs and all, and still coach. Because in spite of the medical scares, the potential major recruiting violations and the losses, Cal seems to still have a passion to lead.

In Winn's story, he brings up a recent column in the Washington Post in which Cal sounded as enthusiastic as ever about his job:

Calhoun also said in that Post story (as he's stated previously) that he considered retiring after last season, when he felt his program was under siege from allegations of illegal recruiting and potential NCAA violations. "I waited a couple weeks, thought about it and finally decided I wasn't ready to stop doing this," he said. "I still love coaching. I love practice, I love recruiting -- the part where you go watch a kid and try to project how good he can become -- I love seeing the kids turn corners as players and people."

But since then, it has probably been a bit tougher to remain as upbeat.

Three straight losses have dropped the Huskies, No. 12 in the preseason, out of the AP Top 25 and directly into bubble status for the NCAA Tournament. Even the wins they have tallied haven't come easily, as both Seton Hall and Notre Dame kept it closer than it should have been before UConn pulled away late. And while the Huskies have a more-manageable stretch coming up, they still have to play West Virginia, Louisville twice, at Villanova, and at Syracuse before the end of the season. On second thought, even games against Cincy, Providence and Marquette seem daunting at this point.

And to make matters worse, the team has looked flat, almost lifeless the past two games. 

I'm sure, regardless what will be said in the coming days, all of this had a part in Cal's leave for what's now being called "stress-related issues." But what does it say about the coach -- as well as the program that he has built almost by himself -- that issues like this are able to take him out of commission, even for a week or two?

The past two or three years have been by far the most trying of Calhoun's career. Aside from the health issues, there was Cognac-gate, Miles/Nochimson-gate, Stan's academic issues, Majok's clearinghouse problems, Okwandu's clearinghouse problems and too many transfers to count, on top of all of the day-to-day chores required to run and recruit a nationally competitive team. And before that, there was the loss to some team in the Elite Eight, a subsequent decent into the gutter of the Big East, A.J.'s near-death experience, A.J.'s run in with the law ... I'm going to stop before this gets too depressing.

The point is it's a lot for one man to go through. Even a D-I basketball coach, and even for someone as leathery as Cal.

And there's no doubt in my mind that, in spite of it all -- even this latest setback -- Cal will probably end up on the sidelines once again.

But is it the right move?

For the program, it will be. Coach Cal is UConn, and as long as he's still patrolling the hardwood, UConn will be better off. 

But for Jim Calhoun the person? Maybe not.