By Jeff Jacobs
The Hartford Courant
---- — BUFFALO, N.Y. — Satisfied, Jim? The attention is on you.
There was Jay Bilas. There was Digger Phelps. There was Bruce Pearl. They were all talking about UConn so enthusiastically Friday on ESPN. Or rather they were talking how great it would be for septuagenarian Jim Calhoun to return to the game as Boston College coach.
And then there were the top stories listed all day on ESPN.com. Again, UConn was highly promoted among them. Or rather, Calhoun was. The story caught on like wildfire. The Courant splashed it across its website. So did other Connecticut outlets. Calhoun was the rage of the Internet, talk shows, et al.
Satisfied, Jim? In the midst of the delightful NCAA Tournament madness of Dayton upsetting Ohio State, Mercer upsetting Duke and, most important, your former players stopping St. Joe’s in an overtime thriller, we are treated to this:
“Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun has significant interest in the Boston College opening, multiple sources told ESPN.”
That was the news.
“As @GoodmanESPN reports, Jim Calhoun is interested in the Boston College job. The interest isn’t mutual, sources tell Yahoo Sports.”
That was the tweet Friday by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!.
If those reports are both accurate — and there is no evidence that either is untrue — it also should be the end of the story, right? Calhoun, who’ll be 72 in May, wants to coach BC. BC doesn’t want Calhoun to coach BC. Period.
Yet it’s not the end of the story.
I am now convinced Calhoun wants to get back into the game. I covered him long enough to know he loves to coach, but he loves winning and the attention more. I decided to keep my distance from Calhoun after he retired as UConn coach. He doesn’t need my negative butt in his life. He deserves to enjoy his retirement with his wonderful wife, Pat.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t talked to lots of other people with a tape recorder or those with a vested interest in basketball. And this is what I’ve heard from multiple people: Calhoun is telling them how great he feels. He says if he felt this good two years ago, when he had spinal stenosis, a fractured hip from his bike accident and a small growth removed from his lung, he wouldn’t have retired in the first place.
He clearly has the itch. And with Jim Calhoun, the scratch is almost always public.
Consider what some of his former players said Friday when asked about the reports as they prepared for Villanova on Saturday night in the third-round NCAA game.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that he misses the game,” Ryan Boatright said in the First Niagara Center locker room. “He’s around us all the time. You can see it in his eyes, when we were getting ready for the game (before St. Joe’s), then after we won the game. You could just see it. I know he misses coaching, but I don’t know what his process of thinking is right now.”
“He actually asked me a similar question a little bit down the stretch when he looked into getting involved with certain national teams,” the German said. “You can just feel his desire to be involved in basketball because he loves this game and he’s such a great basketball mind.
“To be honest, at this point, I just want him to be happy.”
Do I think Calhoun is a distraction to the Huskies as they enter the Villanova game? No, that would be too strong a term. I do think he had a hand in needlessly upstaging the Huskies for at least one day. He just can’t stop himself.
Barely two months into retirement, he told Michael Kay on MSG that he would never say never to a coaching return. I asked then, wasn’t the hero’s goodbye press conference enough? Wasn’t $2.74 million not to coach the 2012-2013 season enough? Wasn’t positioning Kevin Ollie to get the job enough?
“Not surprised that any college would be interested in him: truly stellar coach from a top-20 public research university,” UConn President Susan Herbst emailed Friday. “No worries about this distracting from our team. We love this team and all eyes are on them.”
And the UConn athletic director’s view of the reports of his special adviser and BC?
“No comment,” Warde Manuel said.
Manuel did say he didn’t believe it’s in Calhoun’s current contract that he would need permission to discuss a coaching opening with another school.
All my background information in recent years points to the Boston College hierarchy, which did not support a UConn move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, having pointed concerns about the academic integrity of Calhoun’s basketball program. BC has a strong academic reputation, and UConn’s APR under Calhoun, which led to a one-year NCAA Tournament ban, would figure to be a mighty tough sell at an introductory press conference.
That’s not to mention the hard feelings between UConn and BC over the years. Are we suddenly going to pretend they don’t exist? Calhoun was at the root of much of it, refusing to play BC after the Eagles bolted for the ACC.
“I was upset because I felt they were taking away from something I loved,” a more conciliatory Calhoun told our Dom Amore last November. “I certainly understood that Boston College had to do what it had to do.”
Yes, Calhoun is from the Boston area. Yes, BC missed out on its chance to hire him in the 1980s. And, yes, BC dearly wants to win again. But I’m thinking Jim Calhoun is the last guy BC would hire in 2014.
Speaking with a number of outlets throughout Connecticut, Calhoun’s message boiled down to this: He hadn’t talked to any school and had no plans to talk to other schools. But he’d never say never.
This is what I’m hearing: Calhoun, or at least someone in the Calhoun camp, put out feelers to gauge interest among the BC power brokers. I am told the answer was no thanks.
Tommy Amaker’s name has surfaced as the clear front-runner. Ben Howland, Ed Cooley, Mike Lonegran and Tim O’Shea are others.
If Calhoun really is going to try to get back into big-time college basketball, here’s one opinion that he’ll have to go down South like Pearl has done at Auburn. There is redemption to be found there. Calhoun surely would love to bring along one of his proteges to be a hand-picked successor, maybe a Steve Pikiell. That would require a lot of faith and a huge long-term commitment from a school. Yes, Calhoun is a champion. Yes, he’s a Hall of Famer. But if you’re talking about a rebuilding job like BC needs, exactly how many games could Calhoun win before retiring again in a few years and turning it over to his successor?
Wouldn’t a nice, shorter-term international gig for the world championships or the Olympics fit Calhoun much better? He has been a hero in Israel. There could be something there.
“Would I like for him to come back in general? Yeah,” Shabazz Napier said. “It’s up to him at the end of the day … If he does, wherever he goes, I’m going to be a fan of that team. Hopefully, when I’m done with my career, he’ll give me a job.”
Kevin Ollie, meanwhile, said he hadn’t heard about the Calhoun-BC story until Friday.
“It wouldn’t be tricky for me,” Ollie said. “It would be great. If that’s what he wants to do, more power to him. I’m always going to support Coach. I know he has got passion for the game. I know he’s enjoying his vacations he’s taking in January playing golf. I don’t know if he wants to pass up on those. “
He certainly doesn’t pass up the attention. He has the itch. And we’ll all hear about the scratch.
©2014 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)