It’s now official: Kevin Ollie will be replacing Jim Calhoun as the head coach of the UConn Huskies.
Regardless of whether you want to label him an interim coach or not — officially speaking, he isn’t — Ollie will have a one-year contract to coach the Huskies this season. He’ll be evaluated after the year and the UConn brass will decide whether or not they want to pursue a national name.
Is he the right guy to carry the torch for Huskies? Can he keep UConn relevant nationally? Or should they go out and try to hire someone like Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens or any one of those hotshot young coaches that always seem to have eight-figure contracts getting thrown their way.
That was the same question that was asked when Lute Olson retired at Arizona. The Wildcats have managed to remain successful despite playing in the Pac-12. They made the Sweet 16 in 2009 under Russ Pennell and got to the Elite 8 (where they lost to the UConn Fighting Kembas) in 2011. And with the recruiting class coming in this season, Arizona looks like they are not that far off from once again contending for Final Fours on an annual basis.
The difference between UConn and Arizona, however, was that the Olson’s choice didn’t get the gig.
When Olson retired, he wanted Mike Dunlap — who he had hired away from Metro State in Denver, where he was a two-time Division II national champion — to take over the Arizona program. Arizona only wanted to offer Dunlap an interim tag as they chased a more nationally relevant name. Dunlap balked at the offer (it worked out for him, as he ended up with jobs as associate head coach at Oregon, interim head coach at St. John’s, and now head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats) and Arizona spent a year with Pennell running the program before hiring Miller away from Xavier.
UConn finds themselves in the same position.
Ollie is the guy that Calhoun pegged as his replacement, and there’s little doubt that a mid-September retirement was a power play to ensure Ollie got the job. Recruits love him, but AD Warde Manuel doesn’t. He has no head coaching experience at the collegiate level, but he would have a staff that includes three former head coaches in George Blaney, Karl Hobbs and Glen Miller. And after 26 years, you don’t think Calhoun will be poking his head in the practice gym from time to time?
Asking Ollie to win at the same level as Calhoun is incredibly unfair.
The man is a legend in the state of Connecticut. He won three titles and made four Final Fours in 12 years. How many coaches — ever — can match that level of success?
If UConn was smart, they would pull the full force of their support behind Ollie. While that may not result in as many conference championships and trips to the Final Four, UConn is still recruiting well enough to compete for top 100 recruits (Omar Calhoun, Kenton Facey, Terrence Samuel) and they’ll be doing it with a guy that will be much more popular on a national scale.