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CBSSports.com National Columnist

UConn has a Calhoun problem: A coach who needs to retire, but won't


Calhoun has had several health-related absences, but the current stretch has been the longest. (Getty Images)  
Calhoun has had several health-related absences, but the current stretch has been the longest. (Getty Images)  

UConn has a Jim Calhoun problem -- and if that phrase doesn't click, try it from another angle.

UConn has a Bobby Bowden problem. UConn has a Joe Paterno problem.

UConn has a coach who needs to retire, but won't.

UConn's Jim Calhoun problem won't go away because he won't go away, even though he turns 70 in May and his body breaks down almost annually, getting worse in recent years. Since 2003 he has missed 18 games, including six in 2010 and six (and counting) this season. And that doesn't include 2009, when he fell off a bike and broke five ribs.

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Nor does it count the three Big East games he missed this season because of recruiting violations.

Or the 2013 NCAA tournament he will miss, along with the rest of his program, because of UConn's lousy graduation rate.

So it's like I said: UConn has a Jim Calhoun problem. Question is, has UConn learned anything from the football programs at Penn State and Florida State, which demonstrated the wrong way to deal with a coaching legend in his final years? We'll see. And we should see fairly soon, given that Calhoun's contract expires in two years.

Last week Calhoun fired a preemptive shot at his bosses, telling Marlen Garcia of USA Today, "Given the past 26 years, I don't need an extension."

Chew on that for a minute. Let it settle into your stomach like a bit of bad beef. I promise you that's the effect that statement had on Calhoun's bosses.

"Given the past 26 years, I don't need an extension."

That's the kind of thing Joe Paterno used to say at Penn State. As his age crept into the upper 70s and his program endured four losing seasons in five years, Paterno dismissed talk of retirement and the silly idea that Penn State might actually have a say in the matter. The program turned around even as Paterno was forced to coach some games from the press box and miss others entirely, but there were issues off the field -- and I'm not talking about former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Though I could.

Sandusky was accused by eyewitnesses of molesting boys in the football building in 2000 and 2002, but nothing was done about it for years. We'll never know exactly why, but it's reasonable to assume nothing was done about it because Joe Paterno didn't want anything done about it, and who was Penn State to argue?

But anyway, I'm not talking about Sandusky -- or just Sandusky. As Paterno got older, team discipline issues rose to embarrassing levels. Before Tennessee and Florida in recent years, Penn State was the big-time program ridiculed for its disciplinary issues.

At Florida State, Bobby Bowden's final years were marked by mediocrity and an academic scandal. By the time the university forced him to retire in 2009, the numbers were shocking: Five consecutive seasons outside the Top 20. Roughly 25 players involved in academic fraud. Twelve victories wiped from the FSU record books. And Bowden's age: 80.

I'd say that's one possible look at UConn's future, but it's not -- this is the UConn present. Academic issues. Athletic issues. Scholarships docked for academic reasons. Probation and another scholarship docked for NCAA violations, and Calhoun can't meet recruits off campus this fall. A coach not healthy enough to be with his team, and not humble enough to consider alternative solutions.

"Given the past 26 years, I don't need an extension."

There are differences between Calhoun and Paterno/Bowden, both good and bad. On the positive side, although UConn is in disarray off the court, Calhoun doesn't seem to be fading as a coach. That happened in the final years of Paterno and Bowden, happened to the point that it was a running joke among, well, everyone that neither guy was actually coaching his team anymore. Calhoun's the opposite: He led the Huskies to the 2011 national championship, and this season's team (17-10, 7-8 Big East) had been dissolving in his absence until winning Monday at Villanova.

On the negative side, Calhoun hasn't built up the decades of goodwill afforded Paterno and Bowden. Within the UConn fan base, sure, they love Calhoun. He turned a mediocre program into a three-time national champion. Beyond the program, though, Calhoun is considered a bully, a tyrant. He's one of the reasons the NCAA changed its rules about preseason exhibition games after Calhoun used them to funnel money, legally, to the AAU programs of recruiting targets Rudy Gay, Denham Brown and Brandon Bass. Last year Calhoun ran off the school's last athletics director, Jeff Hathaway.

When his contract expires in 2014, Calhoun will be dealing with both a new AD and president. The president has been on campus for nine months. The AD has been there two weeks.

What are their names? Not sure it matters, not to the men's basketball coach. As far as he's concerned, the school might as well be called UCalhoun.

"Given the past 26 years, I don't need an extension."

UCalhoun has spoken. We await the rebuttal from UConn.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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