By DOM AMORE, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
4:33 PM EDT, September 14, 2013
STORRS — There was a day last April when Jim Calhoun's thoughts were finally detached from college basketball, from the Final Four, from the recruiting trail.
He and his family were at The Breakers, the famous resort near Palm Beach, Fla., catamarans there for the asking. "And it was just us," he said. "The 12 of us, six grandchildren, my sons, my daughters-in-law, Pat and myself. And I was just so relaxed and I looked around and said, 'I couldn't have done this before.'"
Friday marked one year since Jim Calhoun told a throng of reporters and fans that he had coached his last game for UConn, and handed the program to Kevin Ollie.
One year into retirement, Calhoun, 71, cherishes such moments, "time you can't get back," he calls them.
One year into retirement, those moments are becoming more frequent, but there are still moments when he wonders what to do next. His time is his own, but he has no wacky bucket list. "I have no desire to sky dive or go bungee jumping," he says. "I didn't survive all this to have a broken bungee cord get me."
Closure, of a sort, could come Sept. 22, when he will be feted at Gampel Pavilion, with many former players expected to attend and speak in celebration of his era.
This week, Calhoun set aside 90 minutes to talk to The Courant in his ground-level office at Gampel, about this first year of the rest of his life — and it was a characteristically wide-ranging conversation.
"It seems like I have to tap-dance for people to believe I'm happy," Calhoun says. "But I'm happy. … I gave up the keys to the car for all the right reasons. I felt it was the right time. … But it's hard to be swimming in a particular direction and then have to stand. You don't know kind of what to do. You've done something for 40-something years, I'm used to waking up at five o'clock in the morning and solving problems, setting up my day mentally."
Right next door to Calhoun is Dee Rowe, who coached the UConn basketball team from 1969-77 and, at age 84, remains active in fundraising and a relevant figure on campus. Of course, they talk frequently.
In his role as adviser to Athletic Director Warde Manuel and as coach emeritus, Calhoun remains tied to UConn, where he was basketball coach from 1986 to 2012, won three national championships and saw immense growth on many levels. Last March, he could have taken a $1 million cash settlement and moved on, but he has chosen a five-year, $300,000-a-year relationship with the university, the details of which are still being worked out.
Calhoun, however, is not sure what more, or what else, he might consider doing. The idea of coaching a national team overseas, for instance, intrigues him. "It would have to be the right situation," he said.
He is talking with satellite radio about doing a sports talk show — all sports. "I love talking about what makes guys good, in all sports," he said.
And he has talked about doing some analyzing of the college game for one of the TV networks.
His days at UConn usually start off with a workout, in the pool on this particular day. Calhoun's cellphone goes off frequently, and his assistant, Katherine McMahon, is kept busy managing his schedule. He gives speeches, takes on projects as a university spokesman. He is vitally interested in politics and, on the first anniversary of his retirement, was to be at a reception with the state's political leaders.
He makes phone calls in hopes of helping former players land opportunities; this week, he tried to get Rashad Anderson an invitation to an NBA camp. He walks downstairs to watch a pickup game when he can.
"My day kind of fills up," he said. "I can do anything but step onto the floor and give instruction. … But if a player sits down next to me … I can certainly talk to my former players. I tell DeAndre Daniels all the time, for instance, 'don't worry about how much you weigh, worry about how strong you are.'"
This week, too, Calhoun made sure to talk with Tyler Olander, who was charged with DUI and driving without a license last Saturday and has been suspended indefinitely from the team. Calhoun, who recruited Olander, offers encouragement and hopes to help get Olander back on track.
In short, Calhoun is still part of the scene, but "without a whistle." And that still isn't easy.
"With all those things I'm doing and things I've done the last year," he says, "I truly believe the void of basketball is one I'm having a difficult time filling. I spent a few minutes out there this morning talking to [Shabazz Napier]; I spent some time with Tyler. I miss the game, the game itself, the way guys can improve. I gave the keys up to the car for all the right reasons. … But there's a little itch there, about basketball and the kids. I've talked to people, I don't know how to scratch that itch. I will. I'll find a way to scratch that itch."
Calhoun's decision to retire was influenced by the fractured hip he sustained in a cycling accident on Aug. 4, 2012. He was on crutches and still facing weeks of rehab when he decided to retire.
As his hip healed, his knee worsened and he eventually had knee replacement surgery, and another grueling rehab. But the day following his retirement, Sept. 14, 2012, he was on campus as usual and continued to attend practices much of the time. He traveled with the Huskies to Germany, where they opened last season at Ramstein Air Base, doing the color commentary on the radio broadcast, and then the next week to the Virgin Islands, there to have a long chat with Ollie after his first loss.
Calhoun was at nearly every home game last season, sitting courtside, often with Warde Manuel.
"People say, 'you look so calm,'" he says. "I'm not calm. I look over and I see Kevin and my heart beams with pride. My stomach gurgles when things aren't going well. I see those coaches; it's personal to me. Those are my guys."
The big office downstairs is Ollie's now, and the meetings in Calhoun's beloved "bunker" go on without him. Much of the memorabilia he collected over the years is now in boxes and piles in his new office, though he has hung a number of pictures and plaques on the wall. All of it will be rearranged in 2014, when the new basketball training facility is ready. Among Calhoun's tasks is raising the remaining funds to complete the $35 million building.
"We'll have to furnish it," he said. "People joke that it doesn't seem like a state project, it's going up so fast."
The recent news that UConn was ranked in the top 20 among the nation's universities, ahead of some that have received invitations to the ACC or Big Ten while UConn was left behind, launched Calhoun into a prideful soliloquy about how far the university has come, and what still needs to be done.
"Bottom line, I don't think we're in the best place possible," he says. "I don't think anyone does at UConn. I look at it as those days when we were trying to get things going in Big East. There are a lot of things we need to do going forward."
Calhoun is planning now for a trip to Israel with UConn President Susan Herbst, where he will be briefly back in his old element, talking basketball and seeing former UConn players Nadav Henefeld, Doron Sheffer and Gilad Katz.
And, though he tries to stay out of the planning, there will be a tribute to Calhoun at Gampel Pavilion on Sept. 22, which will benefit the UConn Health Center and the new basketball center.
"It's a quarter century of UConn basketball," Calhoun said, "and we can say, 'OK, we got from here to there, and now that era's over.' And, by the way, we're going into a new league, so, really that era is over."
There, one might beg to differ. If the work is complete, the office in a new place, the Big East dismembered, the era is not really over, nor is basketball for Jim Calhoun.
He was in Springfield recently to meet new members of the Hall of Fame, and found himself in a long conversation with Bernard King, the former Knicks all-star. After listening to King talk about his various moves and tactics, Calhoun got to thinking.
"I would get some tape of Bernard King," he said, "which should be easy to get, and try to figure out which of our players could benefit and …"
Then he trails off.
"It wasn't a job," Calhoun says. "It was never a job to me."
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant