Jim Boeheim knows a thing or two about Jim Calhoun. The two have coached against each other for three decades in the Big East. They were inducted into the Hall of Fame in the same year, at the same ceremony, in 2004. They're both old school East Coast coaching archetypes, friends and foes (Calhoun calls Boeheim "Jimmy Boeheim," and might be the only person to do so), above-the-fold names symbolic of a classic, and now bygone, Big East era.
So what does Boeheim make of Calhoun's retirement? What does he think about his longtime opponent hanging 'em up?
Make no mistake: Boeheim -- who appeared on the Dan Patrick Show Friday morning -- thinks Calhoun's accomplishments at Connecticut are, in their own way, unmatched. In his words:
"Jim Calhoun retiring probably was more of a surprise because I thought he would coach until he was probably, maybe 80 at least," Boeheim said.
"I think the thing with Jim Calhoun you have to look at when you take over Duke or Kentucky and you win that’s a good thing. That’s a great coaching job. When you take over Connecticut and where they were 26 years ago and win three national championships, I think it’s…to me it’s the best building job in college basketball history. The only one I can compare it to would be Lute Olson at Arizona in terms of taking a program that was not heard of on the national scene and make it a national contender. I think he’s an underrated program builder and a coach."
At this point, it's difficult to call Calhoun underrated, but you can see what Boeheim means. For the past 20 years, we've come to accept Connecticut as a national power. Those of us born in the mid-80s, right around when Calhoun was hired, have always seen UConn as just that -- a major college hoops force, a mainstay in collegiate merchandise shops coast-to-coast, a national brand. It's easy to forget that the program was essentially a regional Yankee Conference power for much of its life span, little known outside the Northeast. Calhoun has guided its rise to something much, much larger than that, to the point where we (and UConn fans) can now take it for granted.
And he's right, other than maybe Arizona, no coach in the modern era has done what Calhoun did with UConn. There are no real corollaries. Despite the ugly moments in Calhoun's tenure -- the NCAA sanctions, the current APR mess, his brusque personality, all of it -- that will be the lasting legacy Calhoun leaves behind. It really is monumental.