The UConn men's basketball team currently has an opening for an assistant coach. The Huskies will no doubt move quickly to fill the position. But there's also a chance that Jim Calhoun, who has been at the helm since 1986, could retire before the 2011-2012 season.
It doesn't seem likely -- Calhoun, 68, has twice said that he plans on returning -- although when asked recently about his plans, he was noncommittal.
"I need to make sure the guy who is going to coach next year is going to be as enthusiastic as I was last year," Calhoun said last week. "If I don't feel I can do that, then I wouldn't coach. My job -- I haven't made a decision in any way -- is to get this team as ready as it possibly can to be the best team possible."
Part of the reason former assistant Andre LaFleur bolted for Providence was because he felt he had no job security in Storrs if Calhoun decided to call it quits. And since LaFleur wasn't a candidate to replace Calhoun, it's a legitimate concern. But assuming Calhoun retires (if not this summer, then at some point in the next few years), who is most likely to succeed him?
ESPN's Andy Katz wrote about this last month before the Huskies defeated Butler in the national championship game. Interestingly, nowhere in the piece was LaFleur's name mentioned.
But the one thing that seems more certain after observing the program and being around the team is that first-year assistant Kevin Ollie is ready to take over for Calhoun. It would require the help of a strong staff, perhaps bumping Glen Miller from director of basketball operations to associate head coach. Miller, the former Penn and Brown head coach and one-time Calhoun player at Northeastern, would be a perfect complement to Ollie. Of course, this doesn't mean that Calhoun and/or associate head coach George Blaney are ready to step down. They might not be, but for the first time in years, there appears to be solid footing underneath Calhoun, making any decision he deems necessary available to him and the UConn administration, including athletic director Jeff Hathaway.
When Ollie retired from the NBA last summer and joined Calhoun's staff, I was convinced he could be the next head coach at Connecticut, whenever the timing works out. He is beloved here in the state, is a well-respected former NBA player who earned his way through hard work and has strong connections with UConn alumni, who either played or are playing in the NBA. He has a great relationship with the current players and prospective recruits, most notably [Andre] Drummond. He'd be a huge hit if he were to land the job.
There is no disputing Ollie's credentials, but for all he brings to the team in basketball IQ, recruiting is the foundation upon which championships are built. No program has ever suffered NCAA sanctions for shady in-game coaching practices. It almost always revolves around recruiting. And maybe LaFleur wasn't head-coaching material. It happens. But unless the Huskies have a plan to fill the recruiting void LaFleur leaves behind, the future suddenly looks a lot less rosy.