When the news came on Saturday of Kevin Ollie’s firing, it hardly came as a surprise. In the last two seasons under his watch, UConn struggled to back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1986-1987 and the most recent campaign was arguably the worst in program history since Jim Calhoun took over.
What did come as a bit of surprise was that UConn was firing Ollie for “just cause” which, if proven, would allow them to escape the roughly $10 million buyout. The supposed infraction relates to the NCAA’s investigation of the school, which reportedly centers around recruiting.
However, Ollie believes he is innocent and will fight the school for his buyout.
“I intend to work vigorously to defend my honor and my integrity, and to defend my good name to the fullest extent provided under the law, the university grievance procedures and the NCAA compliance process,” Ollie told ESPN in a statement.
In his corner is the UConn branch of the American Association of University Professors, a union that represents professors around the country but few coaches.
Ollie’s contract states he gets a hearing within 15 days to fight the “just cause”, which means it would need to occur before March 25. First, the coach will appeal to Athletic Director David Benedict. If Benedict denies him, Ollie can then appeal to UConn President Susan Herbst. If he fails again, the final step will be going to a neutral arbitrator.
The main point of Ollie’s argument is expected to revolve around the fact that the NCAA investigation is yet to be completed and he hasn’t been found guilty of anything. However, the language in his contract states that any violation by Ollie, a member of the coaching staff or a player could constitute “just cause.”
While that is sorted out, Ollie is essentially on suspension with pay. In his place, associate head coach Raphael Chillious has assumed interim head coaching duties according to Hearst Connecticut Media. Chillious has been on the Huskies’ staff for just one year after replacing former associate head coach Glen Miller.
The status of the entire coaching staff is still yet to be determined by whoever replaces Ollie at the helm. Chillious is unlikely to be a candidate as head coach and will likely not be retained by the next coach due to his connection to Markelle Fultz, who is involved in the FBI’s probe into college basketball.
When it comes to finding UConn’s next men’s basketball head coach, a couple of familiar names have come up, including women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma.
However, Auriemma shot that idea down pretty quickly.
“I don’t particularly think that’s a great idea,” he told the Hartford Courant. “Maybe if it was at a different time, at a different place. But I think we’re going to get somebody, really, really, really good [for the men’s program], and I don’t know who that is.”
“For those people who think I would be a great replacement for Kevin, I’m flattered, but I probably agree with all those people who think that somebody should have their head examined if they name me.”
Another name floated out has been Jim Calhoun. Many people have cited Benedict bringing back football coach Randy Edsall as a reason he would do the same for the men’s basketball program. According to the New Haven Register’s Dave Borges, Calhoun returning is more than just internet speculation:
Indications are that university officials higher up than AD Dave Benedict have inquired about Calhoun’s interest, and he would likely work for a relatively cheap sum (say, $1 million) for a few years while bringing in a coach-in-waiting like, perhaps, Glen Miller, Tom Moore, Donyell Marshall or Scott Burrell.
Bringing back Calhoun, despite being the man that built the program, would not be an ideal move. At age 75, he would likely have trouble with the rigors of the job, such as travel for games and recruiting.
The only way bringing Calhoun back would make any sense would be if Ollie wins his appeal and the school is forced to pay his buyout in full, leaving them with less money to make a competitive offer for another coach.
Calhoun should be revered for building a regional program into one of the most successful teams in the nation during his tenure, highlighted by three national titles. But those were different times. Now, the program needs to go in a new direction and find a head coach who can hopefully lead the program back to its glory for the foreseeable future.