|Ollie was Jim Calhoun's choice, and UConn obliged that -- but with a weak deal. That could change soon. (US Presswire)|
When it happened, from the outside looking in, the Kevin Ollie hire at Connecticut looked like one school brass got strong-armed into -- strong-armed, of course, by a coach who defines intimidation and demand, one who always had to have things his way and whose program was very frequently the better for his tactics.
Jim Calhoun retired in September from UConn, gone a legend, but remains there in an advisory role and something of a walking reminder, as if the trophies and banners bedizened in Gampel weren't telling enough. When Calhoun exited following a bicycle accident, he put UConn in the exact kind of situation that many cynics expected him to -- namely giving his school little time and few options to hire a big-name coach. So UConn would have to go with a UConn guy, but more specifically and importantly, a Calhoun guy -- assistant Kevin Ollie. It did, but the contract said it all: a one-season (not even one-year) deal with a review of Ollie's performance to come in a few months.
The plain math of it: Ollie was signed to a 203-day contract. I had college projects last longer than that. He formally accepted the job as UConn men's basketball coach on Sept. 13, and that contract expires on April 4, 2013. That does not spell out confidence. To be fair, the man had never been a head coach a day in his life, so reticence was somewhat reasonable.
Despite the facts, a lot of people were confused and guffawed at the rare, on-thin-ice type of deal at first. This was UConn AD Warde Manuel's concession to compromise with the outgoing Calhoun, with whom he shares a positive professional relationship. You get your guy, but strictly on our terms, and those terms don't have room for slack.
All of that conjectural interpretation and the careful transition phase seems to have passed. In fact, I don't think we're even gonna get halfway through Ollie's contract before he gets a brand-new deal. Why? It's not because UConn surprised plenty with that convincing win over Michigan State last Friday (who then, in turn, took out Kansas on Tuesday night).
A simple, quick UConn press release from Wednesday gave me indication that Ollie is already in with Manuel and should be at the school well beyond 2013. Unless he's absolutely getting hoodwinked by the athletic department, someone making $625,000 on a six-month deal doesn't donate 16 percent of his contract to his school building a practice facility.
It was a big commitment from Ollie and an even bigger symbolic donation -- he's doing his part. He continues to give all he has to UConn. Soon enough, UConn should be expected to return the favor in the form of a multi-year deal. They have to, right? No one could do this in blind, good faith. There must already be an understanding, or Ollie really is the nicest guy in basketball, which is a reputation he's building mighty quickly.
"I thought it was very important to show my commitment to the UConn Basketball Development Center," Ollie said in a statement. "I have had the incredible opportunity to be a member of the Husky family and that experience has influenced every part of my life. I want to be an example for all former UConn basketball student-athletes, who have had the privilege of playing for two Hall of Fame coaches, to join me in supporting this facility. It will help ensure the long-term success of the programs that all of us helped establish."
The UConn Basketball Development Center had its budget signed off on this week (it is $33 million with a projected final bill of $38 million), with plans to get a shovel in the ground on the project next spring. Manuel's statement didn't foreshadow anything. It reads:
"I want to thank Kevin and his wife Stephanie for making this gift to the UConn Basketball Development Center. Kevin has experienced our program from all facets as a student-athlete, assistant coach and now the head coach. I am proud that Kevin has provided this leadership gift and it is indicative of the positive contributions that former Husky student-athletes can have on the future success of our programs."
Ollie's season ahead has its obvious challenges. The UConn roster isn't a prototypical one from the Calhoun heydays. The team can't make the postseason due to a one-year ban stemming from a trend of bad grades. But Ollie is doing all good for everyone right now. He even has longtime Calhoun rival Geno Auriemma glowing about him -- and remains a right-hand man of Calhoun all the while. Truly, a humble magician.
He's acting and coaching like the job is his to keep. Not lose or win, but keep. The sooner UConn acts on giving him even a small-leash of a deal (say, three years), the better.