In the past five years, the career plans of one coach have received more scrutiny than any other. That coach is Jim Calhoun. His program is Connecticut. At each point along the way -- through down years and recruiting lapses, health issues and biking injuries, NCAA scandal and Academic Progress Rate sanctions, and through the unlikely 2011 national title run that sealed his legacy -- the fates have frequently offered Calhoun convenient and understandable opportunities to step away. He hasn't, because he's Jim Calhoun. He isn't going anywhere until he, and he alone, makes that call.
Now, just two months before the start of the 2012-13 season, he may be closer than ever to doing just that.
Amid his latest recovery -- a broken hip after he fell from his bike this summer -- Calhoun sat down in his office with SI reporter Mark Blaudschun. Calhoun didn't reveal anything major, but he did move closer than ever before toward at least discussing the possibility of the idea that he might soon call it quits.
"I would be very, very surprised if I didn't have something to say within the next two weeks,'' he said as he talks more about the past than the future. Calhoun said he has not decided whether or not to retire, but he sounds like he might be ready to step away. [...]
"I could have walked away last year,'' said Calhoun ... . "But I walked off the stage [in Houston], there were 70,000 people and we had all those guys back. I couldn't do it. I thought we could do it again. We had the players. We had a team that won 53 games in two years. We've had 25 consecutive winning seasons. That's hard to do.''
[...] Calhoun says he has waffled on his decision on whether or not to return for months. "Depends on how I feel sometimes," he said. "But I'm very close to knowing. I'm just going to wake up one morning and I will know what is the right thing to do. I always said if I ever come here and say, 'Jeez I'm not sure, I will know it's time.'''
That is hardly a definitive answer, but it is more explicit than the 70-year-old coach has ever been in recent years -- at least on the record -- about his future with the program he transformed from a Yankee Conference stalwart to a national college hoops brand. One thing remains consistent: Calhoun's support for assistant coach Kevin Ollie in the face of a lack of assurance from new athletic director Warde Manuel:
Calhoun has made it clear that he would prefer the line of succession to include former Husky point guard and current assistant coach Kevin Ollie. When asked if new UConn athletic director Warde Manuel had already designated Ollie as the next coach would there still be any indecision about his future, Calhoun smiled and said, "That didn't happen. It's a university decision and I have confidence they will do the right thing.''
Perhaps Calhoun is being slightly less coy because the confluence of outside factors weighing on his decision is now greater than ever. Not only is he facing a recovery from the hip injury, but if he returned he would also be coaching a team that has no chance of playing in the postseason in 2013 because of NCAA's imposed APR penalties.
For a man of Calhoun's legendary competitive fire, that could work one of two ways. It could inspire him to put together a great season anyway -- see 2011; no one expected anything of the Huskies then, either -- or it could extinguish that fire once and for all. If you can't compete for a title, if the regular season is essentially an extended exhibition, well, what's the point?
This may finally be the right time. But Calhoun is nothing if not stubborn in the face of overwhelming consensus. The only thing to do now is wait and see.