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Connecticut's Jim Calhoun stands at top, whatever the view

Jim Calhoun has been the coach at Connecticut for 25 seasons and has earned 17 NCAA Tournament berths and three titles. Before him, the Huskies went to the NCAAs just 12 times.

Associated Press

Jim Calhoun has been the coach at Connecticut for 25 seasons and has earned 17 NCAA Tournament berths and three titles. Before him, the Huskies went to the NCAAs just 12 times.

HOUSTON

And now it was at an end, perhaps, and the old man was walking toward another trophy, an ugly game behind him, perhaps more controversy ahead, and in this moment like all of the others, Jim Calhoun didn't seem to give a darn what anyone else thought of any of it.

There have been so many games for Calhoun, and so many fights, and so many curse words that needed to be shouted in the direction of a player who wouldn't do right or a ref that couldn't see right or a basketball that wouldn't bounce right. He has coached more than 1,200 games now, and every one of them is written in his face.

He has been so many people through so many viewfinders, Calhoun. Coach. Grump. Champion. Cheat. Mentor. Bully. Comedian. Saint. Sinner. Survivor. He has taken some lumps, and he has given some out.

Along the way, every now and then, Calhoun has had a night such as this.

For Calhoun, this had to be the finest moment in a career that has provided a few.

After all the games, after all the years, he got to wave a national championship trophy in the face of his critics. What could be more fun?

Give Calhoun credit for this. He figured it out. This was his third title, but it was his best coaching job. With three freshmen and a sophomore starting, with a ninth-place finish in the Big East behind him, with his name in headlines throughout, he found a way to guide his team to a title. He turned Kemba Walker and the Teen Titans into champions.

"This group of kids have given me a year that every single coach should have at least one of," Calhoun said after the game. "It's maybe, professionally, the happiest moment of my life."

This time, the trophy came after a bone-ugly game that made you wonder which round of the NIT this might have been. Calhoun didn't care about that, either. His team won, 53-41, and that was enough. Along the way, the Huskies smothered Butler's dream, Butler's offense and Butler's reputation as a good rebounding team. The Bulldogs hit only eight of their first 52 shots, and the Huskies outrebounded them by 12.

All in all, it was a pretty good final act, which makes you wonder if it was indeed Calhoun's final act.

"For me, it's very sweet, because of some of the things I've gone through,'' he said.

This might have been it for Calhoun, you know. If you have ever seen Calhoun stalk a sideline, the way he has for most of his life, it may be difficult to imagine him no longer there. But he is a month from his 69th birthday, and he has survived three bouts of cancer, and even his friends are telling him this might be the time to go.

Calhoun admits that he thinks about it. He once told his wife that he would retire at 50. ("I lied," he said.) He has just had his knuckles rapped by the NCAA for creating "an air of non-compliance." His reputation has taken a pounding. And he has just won a title.

So why not leave? Why not gather his latest trophy and his Hall of Fame plaque and ride away from the storm? Let the NCAA posse try to suspend him from his porch. How about that?

But this is Calhoun, basketball's cantankerous uncle, the guy everyone always thought would leave when someone pried the whistle from his fingers. Calhoun likes a fight too much to walk away. He likes getting in the last word too much. He likes winning games such Monday's too much.

"I would think (walking away) is a legitimate question," Calhoun said. "But 10 years ago, I was on a plane with Dean Smith, and Dean said, 'Don't ever make a decision on your basketball future right after a season. Give yourself some time, space and distance and then make a decision.' "

In other words: Don't push me.

As much as anything else, that's Calhoun's legacy. He has led a don't-push-me life, and he's had a don't-push-me career.

More than 850 times, he has won. Three times, he has won national titles. He kicked in the saloon doors at the Hall of Fame. He pulled UConn into the big time. He has more tournament wins than John Wooden. He has as many national titles as Bob Knight. He has sworn as often as the U.S. Navy.

For all of it, the world cannot seem to decide on Calhoun. Even now, with his career in twilight, he is not far from the shadow of Nate Miles, a former UConn recruit who says Calhoun was fully aware of all of the rules that were broken in his pursuit.

"The bottom line is we can all survive what we need to survive if we know who we are," Calhoun said. "One thing I'll guarantee you, I know who I am. I know what I've done in 39 years of coaching. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Do I have warts? Yeah, I do. But I'm comfortable with who I am."

There are those who are less comfortable, those who think Calhoun got off easy, those who think he should be stronger on details and not so much on defiance, and that Calhoun is the wrong guy to determine the whether the horse lives on. There are those who think Calhoun should stop clubbing the world with the chip on his shoulder.

"I don't know what chip you're talking about," Calhoun said. "When I read about myself, I don't know who they're talking about. But the edge I've maintained. I would hope you never lose your edge."

Think of him how you will, in other words. With Calhoun, there is truth to all of it. When Calhoun walks away, if he walks away, there will be a lot of different footprints leaving the gym.

A lot of different moments worth keeping, too.

This one comes to mind.

Top coaches

Most Division I basketball titles

John Wooden, UCLA 10

Adolph Rupp, Kentucky 4

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke 4*

Bob Knight, Indiana 3

Jim Calhoun, UConn 3*

* Active

Connecticut's Jim Calhoun stands at top, whatever the view 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 1:48am]

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