College Coaching Legend Jim Calhoun Holds His Ground Amid Punishment for Recruiting Violations
Jim Calhoun, longtime head coach of the University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball team, was penalized on Tuesday for his involvement in recruiting violations. In 2008, former team manager Josh Nochimson provided recruit Nate Miles with lodging, transportation, meals, and representation, all violations of NCAA rules. The NCAA investigative committee released its findings and doled out punishment on Tuesday. Calhoun has been suspended for the first three Big East Conference games for the 2011-2012 season, and the number of athletic scholarships for the team has been reduced from thirteen to twelve for the 2012-2013 season.
With an overall record of 835-360 over a period of nearly 40 years, Calhoun is in rarified air as the eighth-winningest coach in men’s college basketball history. He brought winning and relevance to a stagnant UConn program when he was hired from Northeastern University in 1986. He eventually led the team to an NIT title (1988) and two national championships (1999, 2004). Twenty-six of his former players have gone on to have successful professional careers in basketball after their time at UConn.
Calhoun, 68, has faced his fair share of adversity. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer on February 3, 2003. Three days later, he had surgery to remove his prostate. Sixteen days after that, he returned to the sidelines to coach his team. He has successfully overcome two more bouts with skin cancer since then. On June 13, 2009, Calhoun hit a pothole and tumbled over his handlebars 12 miles into a 50-mile charity bike race and broke five ribs. He got back up and finished the race, only to faint from dehydration and trauma after crossing the finish line. The doctors discharged him the next day. Last January, Calhoun took a medical leave of absence for an unknown ailment. He returned a month later, where he took his place standing on the sidelines, barking at the referees as if he hadn’t missed a day of work.
Needless to say, he can handle threats to his health.
What Calhoun can’t handle is blows to his reputation. The hall of fame coach is known for his zero-tolerance attitude, both on and off the court. He does not censor himself, either in practice, games, or at press conferences. Most notably, on February 21, 2009, when asked a question about his salary and the state budget deficit by freelance reporter Ken Krayeske, Calhoun quickly responded, “Not a dime back.” When pressed for an answer, Calhoun told Krayeske to “Shut up,” and noted that his program generated twelve million dollars in revenue for the state per year. The comments landed Calhoun in the national spotlight. The clip was played over and over again on television and currently has over 300,000 views on YouTube.
This latest news is tough to swallow for Calhoun. When the story first broke two years ago, the Huskies were days away from their third Final Four appearance in program history. When Calhoun walked across the court for pregame introductions, he was greeted with chants of “cheater, cheater” throughout the arena.
“I may be a lot of things, profane, but that word [cheater] I’m not,” he said at the time, “I’m a lot of things. You can like or dislike me, but that I’m not.”
It is unclear whether Calhoun knew of the recruiting violations for Nate Miles. What is clear is the message the NCAA is sending: that head coaches are held responsible for the behavior of everyone within their coaching “family.” Investigative journalists and reporters have unearthed instance after instance of high school recruits accepting money, tickets, and other gifts, impermissible phone calls, text messages, and e-mails, and lodging and representation. In a time when recruitment scandals have been hitting some of the biggest college programs in the country, the NCAA has upped its efforts to punish the perpetrators and restore order.
The penalties assessed to UConn are a light smack on the wrist compared to those levied to other programs guilty of more serious violations. What this incident illuminates is a larger, longtime issue: the NCAA and its teams breeding a culture of “looking the other way” in regards to recruitment practices as a whole. Team managers and agents have pushed the boundary of competition into dangerous and unlawful territory, targeting easily-swayed and increasingly young “talent” that can be convinced that the agents have their best interests in mind, at least for the right price.
A statement released by Calhoun after the rulings reads, “I am very disappointed with the NCAA’s decision in this case. My lawyer and I are evaluating my options and will make a decision which way to proceed.” With the characteristic persistence of a bulldog, Calhoun will do everything he can to avoid sitting out those three games next season, a brief punishment for some, but an eternity for him.