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Archive for Monday, April 5, 2004

Commentary: Calhoun has chance to join coaching elite

April 5, 2004

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— Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun can join some elite company tonight when his Huskies play Georgia Tech for the NCAA championship.

If Connecticut cuts down the nets, the 62-year old Calhoun, who has won 681 games in his 32-year career, will become the only active college coach other than Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Bob Knight of Texas Tech to win multiple national championships.

Krzyzewski and Knight are in the Naismith Hall of Fame. But Calhoun, who was a finalist this year, will be on the outside looking in when the class of 2004 is announced today. Even though the official announcement will be made at the site of college basketball's one shining moment, no members of the men's college basketball community will be enshrined for a second year in a row.

The Hall of Fame is becoming far too NBA-oriented. College players are being judged heavily on their professional careers. College coaches are being dismissed on a regular basis. And well-respected Dave Gavitt, who stepped down as president of the Hall six months ago, is being replaced by Russ Granik of the NBA, leaving no real advocate for college men.

Last year, Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State, Lefty Driesell of Maryland, Guy Lewis of Houston and Norm Stewart of Missouri all were finalists. None got in, and the four never made it back to the ballot this season. This year, Calhoun, Gene Keady of Purdue and Dick Vitale of ESPN were finalists. Who knows what the future holds for them?

Calhoun will not speak about his disappointment yet because he has too much respect for the Hall. He is a donor and on April 20, Connecticut will participate in a fund-raising deal with the Hall in which All-American center Emeka Okafor will become the first college player ever to have a locker there.

But those close to him are upset.

"He was devastated," said Tim Tolakan, Connecticut's associate director of athletics.

Calhoun said when he became a finalist, it was the biggest honor of his coaching career. It was a chance for him to return in triumph to Springfield, Mass., where he went to American International College and saw the first Hall of Fame being built when he was there.

"He's the winningest coach in New England college basketball history. He's a Massachusetts guy. All of us who care deeply think he should walk in based on his body of work," Tolakan said. "And, factor in what he has done in the creation of a program that rightly or wrongly was a good regional program. The greatest stat is that from 1900 through 1990, Connecticut had only won four NCAA games. Since 1990, Jim Calhoun is 31-9."

The problem with the Hall is there is no accountability in the process. Everything is done in secret. This is not the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the Baseball Writers Association publicly determines the fate of players. No one knows who is on the North American screening committee or the 24-member honors committee, where a candidate needs 75 percent of the vote to pass through the portals.

Secrecy does not lead to integrity. Any voting that is conducted behind the curtain usually leads to more questions than answers.

"The secret stuff bothers me," said UConn assistant George Blaney. "But there's limited information being sent to the voters."

If Calhoun was outraged by the slight Thursday, he was able to channel his emotions Saturday, motivating his team to a dramatic comeback in its 79-78 victory over Duke. He can put a good public face on it, but he and college basketball deserved better.

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