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Jim Calhoun Retirement Press Conference Transcript

Jim Calhoun

Sept. 14, 2012

Calhoun Retirement Central

President Susan Herbst: Welcome, everybody. Thanks, students, for coming out today. This is a tough day at the University of Connecticut. It's a tough day for UConn, the state of Connecticut, our fans and alumni throughout the nation.

It's a moment of sorrow, of celebration, and admiration most of all for someone who has been a pillar of this community for over 25 years. We're here to announce that Jim Calhoun is stepping down as head coach of the University of Connecticut men's basketball team after more than a quarter century of extraordinary and powerful leadership.

It's challenging to put into words what Coach Calhoun means to us. Everybody in this room understands his storied career, his championships, his role in making this a truly great research university.

I can't believe my own good fortune that I've had the chance to know him and work with him. So let me not speak about wins, but about Coach as a leader and a citizen.

I tell people often across the university that they should aim for excellence of the highest order, whether they're scientists, policy analysts or facilities managers, I say look at Jim Calhoun, look at what he delivers.

It takes guts and it takes tenacity. His excitement about basketball, about UConn, students, it's contagious and inspires everything that he meets. The world beyond UConn, the people who watch Jim on TV, always entertaining, don't know Jim the man at all. They see a great coach, they see a great strategist, of course, but they don't see that he is one of the most generous people in the world. He raises money, he inspires people, young people, but most of all he's generous with his heart.

I can't tell you how many young men, students, former students, staffers, fans, have told me that Jim is like a second father to them. There's no better praise. This, more than basketball, is his real legacy.



He's a legend and he's our legend. He brought us tremendous joy on countless dark, cold, northeastern nights, and he never, ever gave up, no matter his fierce opponent. He is a walking life lesson in courage and altruism.

I should know that Jim brought himself to the game and the university, and he brought his wonderful family with him. Pat Calhoun is as important to us as Jim is. She's a beacon of intelligence, warmth, and love. Thank you, Jim, for sharing Pat with us, your two sons, your many grandchildren. We loved every minute of every year with them.

Jim and Pat have contributed so much over the decades to the university and the great causes they believe in. That will not end. He may be stepping down as head coach, but he isn't leaving the university and he isn't withdrawing from public life at all. Far from it, he will continue to work with the university on a wide range of projects, most important of these is that he'll be a central fundraiser for both our new basketball practice facility and of course the Jim and Pat Calhoun Cardiology Center in the health center.

As you know, Jim is one of the best public speakers, goodwill ambassadors in this state, and we need private dollars very badly at the UConn Health Center. Thanks to Governor Malloy and the legislature. We need to match the generosity of the state and Jim will help us to do that.

Jim, from me personally, Duke alum that I am, thanks for being an inspiration and a hero. On behalf of the entire university, past, present, future, students, faculty, staff, fans, thanks for bringing us true greatness and showing us the real meaning of excellence.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Larry McHugh: Thank you for those wonderful remarks, Susan.

My career, as you know, goes back with Jim all the way back to his days when he was a high school coach and I was a high school coach. Jim Calhoun is a legend in coaching. But to me he's more than that. He's a man committed to excellence, a man committed to his players, who he loves, has dedicated his life to them.

He's a stand up guy, and I'm very, very proud of the job that he's done at the University of Connecticut. UConn Huskies is the name right now in the state, in the country because of this wonderful man's total commitment to excellence in athletics.

It gives me a great honor to introduce our coach, Jim Calhoun.

Coach Jim Calhoun: Thank you very much.

I wrote notes down, particularly because this is one of the few press conferences that I've had maybe ever, except for May 1st, 26 and a half years ago, I still have the heart from Boston in there, at the Faculty Alumni Center, which probably is not in existence anymore. More importantly, because of the life experiences that I've been so fortunate to have in those 26 and a half years at UConn.

Just down the road, 26 and a half years ago, May 15th, 1986, I said that the UConn job would take some time, maybe not 26 and a half years, but it's going to take some time, but it's a doable situation. What's not really doable is thanking all those people along the way. If I don't say your name, I will get that opportunity somewhere hopefully to do that. If I don't say how much you mean to me, to the Calhoun family, the picture will look a little bit bigger today, much prettier, nicer.

This all started on a trip down from Boston. Jack McMullen, who some of you know, drove the car. It was a car then. We were in the car. She drove, wanted to get an inside look, worked for the Boston Globe. Jack was a good friend. Jimmy drove the car behind so we could get home that night.

I said, You know, this is Husky west, which is opposed to Husky east, which is Northeastern University.

What happened when we got here, this family of four was taken in by the University of Connecticut, by its state, by its fans, by its people, and you showed trust in us. The four of us came here with great promise, great ideals. When I first saw the Field House, some of those ideals went away. Tom, it was the first rainy day when it leaked, Scottie remembers some of that, too. But that happened. But you did embrace us. Most importantly, you trusted us.

Some of you, you needed translators to get the Bostonian out occasionally. One fellow said, How are you going to understand him? Have you seen him coach? They don't understand the words, they don't need to, they'll understand quick, and they did.

We had to engage our fans, alumni, administrators, legislature, we had to show everyone as a member of the Big East that we had a rightful place at the table. As a matter of fact we had a loud voice. Our first thrust was letting everybody know in our neighborhood at that time that we were going to have a voice, something to say about the future of basketball particularly in the BIG EAST Conference.

The first step in being special is to believe you're special. You can't do something special without believing it can happen. Foolishly enough, being stubborn and Irish, which kind of go together, I believed every bit of it, as one night 26 years ago Tom Ritter believed it. Larry McHugh, who I talked to, I've just been blessed with so many people who believed in that dream.

This can only be accomplished, this special feeling, with a collected effort by everyone. That's one of the great stories of UConn. It took no one single person, it just took some direction.

This task was much too multifaceted, much too complex for any one person to achieve. It took players from all over the country who truly believed that we were doing something very special here.

Initially, it was based upon trust, on a dream, not on tangible facts we should show them. We came off five winning seasons. A guy from Jacksonville believed. Kids from Israel believed. Maybe because when we said it, we believed it. When we said it, we believed it.

It took coaches who believed in UConn, our program, most importantly our players, and finally in me. We were just starting, but we needed to have all those people aboard because they make a difference.

It took the university to support our dreams to make it all possible. It took presidents from John Casteen who hired me to the present great breath of fresh hair in Susan Herbst, who is making a great difference, giving us an incredible future, and administrators to care about our players and coaches to allow us to achieve.

It took governors all the way up to Governor Malloy and legislators to provide funding and support to allow us to move to a whole different level. It took an incredible support staff who only would be noticed if they didn't perform the magic behind those curtains.

James, my trainer. Christina Buccheri, and Felicia Crump, three people as examples who performed their magic every single day behind those curtains. There's so many others. I look out there and see Howie's face. We started this together in a room in the old Field House, probably 100 degrees. Scary part, Howie wasn't sweating (laughter).

And last, but a long way from least, our fans, students, faculties, employees, alumni, are just plain Connecticut folks. Without you, UConn basketball wouldn't be UConn basketball. I know many times that you think it goes unnoticed. But every time I walk in Gampel Pavilion and the students stand and clap as I walk in, I get chills. It may go unnoticed, but certainly not to me. When you stand the entire game, will never give up on us, it's noticed. Maybe not acknowledged. And lastly, the fact you stayed till the very end, that's cool. That was really, really cool.

To our other fans, trust me, it's never gone unnoticed that on those cold, cold nights, rainy nights, sleet nights, walking through snow, being taken up here in all different directions, yet showing up to support something that you love and I love. The fact that you drove through that sleet, you drove through that rain allowed us to be what we have become.

You always felt through all your various letters and other things that our players were more than shooters, dribblers, post men, that they were people from Mrs. Brunson's cookies which are delivered on a regular basis, to all the different aspects you've shown, the college students, student athletes, That has always been appreciated.

Trust me, you've been an incredibly important part, everybody in the state of Connecticut, never, ever was maybe expressed, but never, ever went unnoticed.

I love this team. They're a group that's going to carry the UConn legacy on, because we do feel we're UConn men. I feel so good about them, whether what we're playing for, we're playing for UConn, for the state of Connecticut, and for our basketball team. I've been asked that question enough times. The purest part of the game, we're playing for that. And they will.

Just as I said to them a few minutes ago, you can separate this, you can't separate a fist. They will be a fist, and a great example of what we want. Our coaching staff, having Kevin Freeman come back, who is going to be sensational. Having George (Blaney), I think who was here before me, but having his trust and his ability, analytical thinking, is incredibly special. Glen Miller, who I coached. Terrific coach, terrific person. Karl Hobbs, great having him back. 1984 captain.

You'll notice that we have four UConn guys on our staff. We think that's important, our legacy is important, we think our family, which all of you are a member of in many different ways, and none of that goes unnoticed. We know that you care and we feel that you care.

You know, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least publicly introduce my family. I usually goof that up. But my oldest son Jim, my wife Pat. That's the best recruit I ever got, best recruit. My son Jeff. My daughter in law Amy. My daughter in law Jen, former UConn manager. Then our grandchildren Sam, Mary, Katie, Peyton, Reese, Emily, our teenager.

But I feel so blessed today that I have had the opportunity to coach at UConn. It's never been about me. I've just been the focal point. I know sometimes I'm rather loud and a visible focal point, but the old expression, you got to be going in one direction, and I felt the direction was that we could do anything. I feel that today as we go forward under the leadership of Susan and Warde and Larry, our Board of Trustees. We're in great shape.

I know later he'll be getting up and I won't have the opportunity to talk about him, but I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Kevin, who is taking over as the head coach. Kevin, simply put, epitomizes what we want a UConn athlete and student to be all about. When you say that about somebody, that's heavy stuff. I've had 200 something players. Even in a foxhole you need to do a job, there's your guy. Any person that won't quit, there's your guy. He just got a Ph.D. from 13 years in the NBA, with, God rest his soul, Chuck Daly, Larry Brown. Kevin is a great basketball man. He's even a better person. He epitomizes everything we all want at our university. So I'm incredibly proud of Kevin, our staff. This team is going to bring you great delight this year because of their effort, what they do.

Lastly, I'm one of the luckiest people alive because I've had a chance to touch our players' lives. I just was in with Donny for a few minutes and it was hard for both of us. We go back to the night I took that cab to your house. Everybody else showed up in limousines. Kind of a Bostonian way to do things, I guess.

I coached our teams and allowed our teams to be a vehicle to shine a light on this very, very special university. For all those who have tried to understand me, I don't know how you can do that, I have a difficult time with that concept myself. But more importantly for all those people who reached out to help us, made the Calhoun's drive to Connecticut 26 and a half years ago, a very, very special thank you very much.

Q. Jim, what kept you going all these years, come back year after year?

COACH CALHOUN: Well, my dad died when I was 15. I think other people can repeat stories not necessarily about early death of a parent, but the place I really went was I turned to athletics. I was devastated with his death. Family of six, all the other things that happen to people during life.

Athletics was the place I felt most comfortable, competing in football, baseball or basketball. Basketball, to me, all you needed was a boy, a ball and a dream. Therefore, I could do away with the things and thoughts I had, which weren't the greatest thing.

So it became home, I guess, for me. The gym, I still call the place we played in Houston, 78,000, a pretty good gym. My point being very definitively, to me it's a gym. It's a place of comfort. It's a place of competition. It's a place to seek excellence, and it's a place to grow. You can be the judge, others can be the judge.

I always say to our kids, Are you going to the gym for recreation or are you going to work? There's a comfort level with me in the gym. I'll miss it greatly. To be down here, sitting here, talking about various things, other aspects of it, I can't and I won't get away from basketball.

The gym always is the place. I always felt and I still feel that we're just getting going. We've had some bumps in the road. Today if you look around to some of the great institutions in America, they're having bumps, too. It's natural and normal in our society today.

My point is, we got more. I guess I always felt that way. There's always the next step, the next player, the next game. So some of the difficulties I may or may not have had certainly carried that. But I always returned to something that I felt very comfortable with, and that was the gym.

Q. On the other side of that, what were the factors that made you decide it was the time and when did you make that decision?

COACH CALHOUN: It's been a long time. Some folks have asked, Did your hip injury lead you to not coaching? No, I hope to be better in the next three or four weeks, practice, I could certainly do that.

The hip injury actually gave me a momentary pause. I couldn't do anything for two weeks except have an angel wait on me, my wife. My point being, it gave me a lot of time to contemplate some of the things in my life.

I looked around, looked at our staff, Kevin, our kids, our players, Susan, Larry, Tom, Warde, and knew we were headed in the right direction. We're going to have bumps in the road, we've had them in the past. We're 16 months removed from a national championship. We have a bump in the road right now. Small bump, behind us. It is behind us. We're going forward.

As I looked at everything, so many things are in place for us to even go farther than we have already. So I thought it was an excellent time. I really feel the university is in incredible shape.

By the way, I'd like to in a different sort of way, because I knew this day was coming, be a part of it in a whole different way.

Q. Jim, when you arrived here in May of '86, you talked about on the drive Jeffrey was wearing his red Northeastern socks in protest. You talked about how tough it was to leave the kids that day. Can you compare that decision to how it was to come to this point today?

COACH CALHOUN: Two things. When I went into the locker room, looked at the guys, for the next half an hour, my guys, they'll always be my guys, just as Donny, Ray, Rudy, Scottie, Tony, they're my guys. Here I'll have them. Our family will build and grow as these young guys come along and join that family.

But I thought it was the right time for me. Thank God physically I'm very healthy. I always felt last year guilty about missing 11 games. I didn't cause the back problem, but I missed 11 games. I just didn't want anything to get in the way. As I said, I'm at a point where I have incredible amounts of energy, I have a lot of things I know I can do and help, and I know who's in place. That's very important. Who's in place is very important.

If I went through the number of wins, Carl, Glen, Brown, George, 500 wins, we're in a great place obviously. That is shown there, but it's shown certainly as much up here.

Q. Jim, this season, how often do you plan on being around the team? Will you be at practices? How is your involvement going to be this year?

COACH CALHOUN: I think the involvement will be to make sure that I fully turn over the responsibilities. One of the things I said to the kids is I don't want to hear about playing time. You talk to Coach Ollie about that. But what I do want to hear about is I can look at you in a different sort of way now. The personality involvement will be there, the passion of the game won't be anywhere near as much. I can objectively look at you in a whole different set of circumstances.

I'll see them more individually. I'll have more time for them. And I will be at practice. I would never tell Kevin, any of our staff, what to do. But if they sought my advice, I would clearly give my advice. I've been known to do that on various occasions. That's their choice. If they ask, they're going to hear.

More importantly, I think it's important for me, I know I keep saying this, our family is a close family. No matter what I'm doing, I'm available to Kevin 24 hours a day as I am to the rest of the staff, as I am to the guys. That kind of describes who and where I'll be.

I said to some recruits and different people that I'll be here at UConn with or without a whistle. It's going to be without a whistle, but I feel I can do an awful lot to help the entire university, including basketball, going forward.

Q. One of the foundations for your career was up in Springfield at AIC. Can you talk about how that shaped you as a player and a coach?

COACH CALHOUN: When we got there, they had some very poor seasons. What we were able to do with a bunch of guys, our coach, Bill Callahan, we were ranked No. 2 in the cup, go to Evansville, Indiana, play for the national championship. A lot of good things started for me there.

When I came there, I had maybe a little bit different mindset. Now I had more obstacles to come over, our team did, I always considered that as part of life. As a matter of fact, I think I function on that.

The day that Kevin, the day I or any of the coaches come in here worrying that they have problems, you're going to have problems. It's your job to fix those problems. I think that's what I would try to do.

The problem is simply we need to get better. We need to get better players. We did. We had a great deal of success there.

Q. How emotional is this for you? What do you want your legacy to be at UConn?

COACH CALHOUN: Well, I think people who know me, Susan was more than kind about it, will determine my character, which I'm much more concerned with, and others will determine my legacy. I truly believe that. I think others are going to determine my legacy. That's part of being a public figure.

But I think character is what I want to be judged as, the kind of person. I never, ever said that I was mistake free. I never said I wouldn't want to take that back maybe. But I think the purpose that I had was always headed in the right direction. I was always trying to do the right thing. Didn't always work that way, but I was always trying to do the right thing.

I think if you maintain that, your character is there, you feel better about yourself. If you listen to what everybody else says about you, if you believe the good, you have to believe the bad. I try to judge myself by my players, the guys I coached, the coaching staff, people that I have great respect for.

Q. Jim, as a first time head coach, can you talk about the challenges that Kevin is going to be facing, and what are some of the things you can't prepare for until you're in that position?

COACH CALHOUN: Tommy Izzo called me this morning. Tommy is a very good friend, wanted to get ahold of me. He was an assistant under Jud Heathcote for five years, a walk on at Michigan State. He's done pretty well.

He said to me, the thing that maintained me and got me through a couple first years when I started, I believed that Michigan State should and would be good. That will overcome any other desire.

Kevin Ollie believes that UConn should and will be very good, and he will work every single day sorry Shannon 12 hours a day if he has to, to make that happen. His NBA career is almost a story unto itself, X number of teams, et cetera. Remarkable story. Remarkable story. Kevin has actually been rejected a time or two. So recruiting rejection, next guy, get the next player. Lose a game, next game.

I think, as I said before, he has all the intangibles and the knowledge. I always say if you spent 13 years under some of the coaches he spent, you have a Ph.D. in basketball. He's going to get the opportunity certainly to express it on the court with this team.

Q. Even before Kevin got here as an assistant coach, were you keeping tabs on him? Did you see him as someone who could potentially fill the role he is in now?

COACH CALHOUN: More and more as I watch a lot of our kids, whether it's Scottie, Donny, whoever our players may be, all the various things that have happened, I think you look at your players. Without question you kind of say, Yes, he has some special characteristics.

I think when he would visit back here, I know I could talk to Howie, any of the other coaches about this, you knew about Kevin Ollie right away. As I said, for three straight years I lined up somebody to beat him out. He picked the guy up in the locker room before practice and wore players out because that's who he is. That's who he is.

Yet he's got high character, moral fiber as any guy I know. He's so much tougher than everybody thinks he is. You don't do what he did if you're not tough and you're not resilient. The most important thing, he's caring. As I said before, he epitomized what we want.

Are there other guys I would have thought of? Yeah, there really are. I think within our family, Kevin's a pretty special guy, really special guy, as a matter of fact.

Director of Athletics Warde Manuel: Good afternoon, everyone. I wanted to add to what President Herbst said earlier and thank Jim for all that he's done for 26 years, for the student athletes, the men's basketball program, this athletic department, UConn, and the state of Connecticut.

His tireless efforts have made us all better. His drive gave us championships. His unwavering dedication to success made us all believe that anything is possible. I'm looking forward to working with him for the next six months as we go through this transition to raise money for the practice facility and to get his advice on other issues that arise.

I will admit that I've already told my staff that we are going to have to now make administrative work look exciting because with Jim around, it's going to be exciting whether we like it or not. I think I'm going to be the brunt of all the advice, Kevin, that's coming your way, whether you like it or not, right (laughter).

I also really want to thank Pat for all of her unyielding support over the years, for coach, for UConn. Her dedication to Jim, their sons Jim and Jeff, her family and her beautiful grandchildren, that deserves another round of applause. Thank you, Pat.

I've also had the opportunity over the past few months to meet Jim and Jeff. I do want to thank you for your support, your support of your dad, for sharing him with us and your love of UConn. Thanks, guys.

When I arrived at UConn earlier this year, one of the very first questions that I received was, If Jim Calhoun decides to retire, what are you going to do? I thought to myself, That's a very good question. Then I kept walking.

Jim is the seminal figure in the history of this program and UConn athletics, one of the legends of college basketball, period. It's never easy replacing a legend. This will be a transition that's tough, but he's going to be by my side, he's going to be there for Kevin and for this university. That will make it a little bit easier.