After 14 years at the helm of Northeastern basketball, Jim Calhoun left to take over as coach of the University of Connecticut basketball team in 1986. Twenty six years and 18 NCAA Tournament appearances later, he retired a three-time champion and Hall of Famer. Now, after handing the reigns of UConn basketball to Kevin Ollie, who has since won a title of his own, following the 2012 season, Calhoun sits down with Dime to discuss leadership, his favorite players and teams, how the college game has changed over his years coaching, potential NCAA rule changes and more.
(Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
DIME: In your Dove Men+Care campaign, you talk with Kevin Ollie about caring for each other and how much that’s an important part of the game. In college, there’s annual roster turnover; There are younger kids. You’re molding personalities. So, how does a coach get players to care about one another as much as they do winning?
Jim Calhoun: The reason why I joined this campaign when they asked me about it was relationships and the start of relationships. The actual real stuff is many times off the court where the situations occur. I’ll use Kevin Ollie as an example. I coached Division-I basketball 40 years. I have a lot of kids I’ve loved, including Kevin. Kevin was one of the special ones like a lot of the kids were. When Kevin came to UConn, I was his surrogate dad…This is what Dove Men+Care talks about in the campaign. They put Kevin and I together to talk about our relationship with each other. It’s kind of cool, by the way. We were just talking about that the great thing looking back 40 years as a Division-I head coach is the relationships. The wins are great. The championships are wonderful. The Big East, the lesser championships, those are all great. But the relationships I had with the kids, those are still the most important things.
When Kevin took over for you, he had no prior head coaching experience. In that sense, does understanding that concept help Kevin him ease into that job?
I think Kevin was always a leader. I think Kevin was a leader when he was young. I think Kevin understood the relationship between staff, players and that whole group of guys that he played with. To this day, those guys are like fraternity brothers. They’re brothers. They’re truly like brothers. And I think that allowed him when he came back, the culture that we had developed at UConn over the previous 26, 27 years, I don’t think there was any question Kevin was easily able to not only adopt it but understand it and apply it to his own team…I think he maintained the culture. That was the biggest thing. He maintained the brotherhood. He maintained the love for each other.