Win or lose in tomorrow's national championship, there is a growing feeling that legendary head coach Jim Calhoun could call it quits following the game. He's a guy who has had nothing left to prove for years and now, with the Nate Miles situation not going away, who could blame him for stepping away?
To be clear, I’m not pushing him out the door. The man deserves to have carte blanche when it comes to his decision to call it quits and I’d be completely content with him pulling a Joe Paterno on us and staying as long as he’s breathing and swearing. But I also recognize that he’s a three-time cancer survivor who turns 68 in May and has nothing left to prove in college basketball. If he does decide to retire, all we can do is throw a parade and thank him for what he did in Storrs.
So how do you replace a legend?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to picking a new coach: 1) Make a splash. Do a national search and throw a lot of money at the hottest young coach out there. 2) Hire from within. Or at least someone with direct ties to the program. Provide continuity.
I say do both.
Hire Geno Auriemma.
There isn’t another coach in the country with the perfect combination of fame, credentials and a built-in knowledge of Connecticut basketball than Auriemma. He’s the John Wooden of women’s basketball, architect of arguably the single most dominant team in the history of American sports. That’s not a stretch either. His team is about to win another national championship and virtually none of their wins have come by less than ten points over the last three years.
Why would he bother risking his legacy, you ask? Ego. Auriemma is like the best athlete from your hometown who never made it to the pros. Everyone has respect for him, but at the end of the day he’s still looked at as the best from a very small sample size. It’s not so much about coaching women as it is coaching in a sport that only has a handful of great programs. Either Connecticut or Tennessee (or both) appeared in all but one Final Four over the last decade.
Auriemma would never admit it, but for someone as competitive as he is, it has to bother him to know that historians will always place “women’s” in between “best” and “coach ever” when they refer to him. We could say that doesn’t necessarily imply that he couldn’t get it done on the men’s side, but if we’re being honest, it kind of does.
The thing is I think Auriemma could make a seamless transition to coaching men’s basketball. Above all else, recruiting is about selling yourself to players. That’s why we compare coaches today to used car salesmen and not generals. What works for him when he’s recruiting 18 year old girls will work when he’s recruiting 18 year old guys. He’s charming, good-looking and he’s got that same slick New Yorker attitude that made his has friend John Calipari so successful.
Some might say that he wouldn’t be able to coach men the way he coach women. But that’s assuming that he would want run the same offense he has Maya Moore running now. Of course he’d have to adapt, but how could anyone question his ability as a talent evaluator? I’m pretty sure he would know that he can’t go after 6’4 forwards who can’t grab the rim.
Ironically, the person most opposed to this idea might be Calhoun himself. For years, we’ve heard rumors about the intense rivalry between the two. But is there anyone more capable of matching his famous intensity than Auriemma?
The truth is there’s only one way to replace Calhoun whenever he decides to go.
By hiring another legend.