By Brian Willwerth
Jim Calhoun has seen a lot of college basketball in his 39 years as a head coach – the last 25 coming at the University of Connecticut.
It’s safe to say, he’s probably never experienced a season quite like this.
With Connecticut’s 53-41 victory over Butler Monday night, Calhoun won his third national championship, all of them coming in the past 12 years. UConn was also the last team standing in 1999 and 2004. This year’s title matchup was a game that will be remembered more for Butler’s inability to put the ball in the basket than anything else. But for Calhoun, a win is a win. And he has over 800 of them in his career.
But this season may have been his best coaching job ever. Sure, the Huskies got off to a 10-0 start, highlighted by an impressive run in the Maui Invitational Tournament in which they knocked off the likes of Michigan State and Kentucky. UConn rose in the polls, and rightfully so.
But then came February. The NCAA came down hard on Calhoun for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance within the program. As a result, he will be suspended for the first three games of the conference play in 2012. The program was also hit with scholarship reductions. UConn went on to lose seven of its last eleven regular-season games. The Huskies were the #9 seed in the Big East Tournament. How much of a distraction would it be heading into Madison Square Garden?
The answer would be a resounding “not at all.”
After losing the regular season finale to Notre Dame, Calhoun did not taste defeat the rest of the way. Five Big East Tournament games, five wins. Would they feel the effects of winning five games in five days? The answer: six NCAA tournament games later, Calhoun and his players were cutting down the nets at Reliant Stadium in Houston. It didn’t matter how many obstacles he had to overcome. Hall of Fame coaches know how to do that.
At the age of 68, Calhoun is the oldest coach ever to win the national championship. Don’t be surprised if he has another one left in him.