Senior Writer

Calhoun keeps cool profile by staying away from heat


Jim Calhoun is a Hall of Fame college basketball coach.

Some will tell you it's because he has 800 career wins, three Final Fours and two national titles, and those people would be correct. But it's also important on a day like Friday -- when UConn holds a news conference to update an NCAA investigation and confirm the forced resignations of two assistants -- to recognize Calhoun's other great attribute, which is to say his ability to stay far enough away from the bad stuff to survive if the bad stuff ever comes to light.

That's what Hall of Fame coaches do, you know?

They run programs -- programs that at best operate in the gray area and at worst break recruiting regulations -- while keeping a safe distance between themselves and all things questionable. Plausible deniability must always remain an option; that's the key. Worse comes to worst, an assistant (or two) will take the fall.

So goodbye Patrick Sellers and Beau Archibald. You are casualties of the college basketball war. You served your head coach well.

And please don't take this as an attack on Calhoun.

It's quite the opposite, really.

Call it a tip of the hat.

What Calhoun has done is survive an NCAA investigation even though violations have been uncovered and two assistants have lost their jobs. That, my friends, is the stuff of Hall of Famers, an impressive accomplishment, not unlike John Calipari's ability to never directly be tied to anything despite having had two Final Fours at two different schools vacated. Calhoun and Calipari may hate each other (and they do), but one thing they have in common is that they both understand "how to play the game" and flourish in a sport that gets sketchier by the year.

If only Kelvin Sampson were so lucky.

And Jim O'Brien.

Calhoun has kept danger a safe distance away throughout his career. (Getty Images)  
Calhoun has kept danger a safe distance away throughout his career. (Getty Images)  
Those guys' greatest sin wasn't overseeing programs at Indiana and Ohio State that broke rules as much as it was getting too close to the rule-breaking. Sampson left a paper trail for repeated illegal phone calls; O'Brien acknowledged giving a prospect cash. Consequently, both lost Big Ten jobs, and you just know head coaches from coast to coast heard the stories and thought to themselves: "What's wrong with those idiots?" The kingpin should never get in the room with the drugs and guns, and the head coach should never get close enough to be significantly tied to the cheating. Those are two basic rules of life. I learned the first from watching The Wire. I learned the second from writing about college basketball.

So two UConn assistants are out.

That's the story of the day.

Meantime, Jim Calhoun will enter next season with four years left on a new contract. He'll keep making millions of dollars, keep recruiting high-level prospects, keep winning Big East games, and he'll do all this because he's a great basketball coach who knows how to run an elite basketball program.

In other words, he understands when to get involved and when not to get too close, and that kind of awareness is what's allowing Calhoun to move forward while parts of his staff do not.

In an NCAA investigation, someone almost always takes a fall.

Often times it's a player.

Sometimes it's an agent.

But it's never a smart head coach.

Because a smart head coach would never allow that to happen -- nor would his loyal assistants.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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