Retirement never seemed like it would fit Jim Calhoun. He struggled against it, or seemed to, for years. He was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, Calhoun had variously serious health problems -- from treatment for squamous cell carcinoma to the ribs he broke falling off his bike -- and as his recruiting pipeline began to slow and his Huskies teams began to look less vintage, it was fair to wonder whether Calhoun wouldn't have been better off retiring, whether he was holding on too long.
Instead, he held on long enough to win one more national title with Kemba Walker in 2011. It was about as perfect a penultimate season as a coach can have, and it was won through tooth-gritting competitive spite -- the things that fueled Calhoun his entire career hadn't faded in the least. A year ago, he got around to calling it quits, but not before installing his chosen successor (Kevin Ollie) in his old job. Since then, Calhoun has settled into sort of a self-fashioned emeritus role. He still has an office at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., but he does a lot less coaching than he used to. In fact, a year after his retirement, Calhoun still seems to be getting used to the entire idea.
"It seems like I have to tap-dance for people to believe I'm happy," Calhoun says. "But I'm happy. ... I gave up the keys to the car for all the right reasons. I felt it was the right time. ... But it's hard to be swimming in a particular direction and then have to stand. You don't know kind of what to do. You've done something for 40-something years, I'm used to waking up at five o'clock in the morning and solving problems, setting up my day mentally."
"With all those things I'm doing and things I've done the last year," he says, "I truly believe the void of basketball is one I'm having a difficult time filling. I spent a few minutes out there this morning talking to [Shabazz Napier]; I spent some time with Tyler. I miss the game, the game itself, the way guys can improve. I gave the keys up to the car for all the right reasons. ... But there's a little itch there, about basketball and the kids. I've talked to people, I don't know how to scratch that itch. I will. I'll find a way to scratch that itch."
In other words, Calhoun is happy -- he promises he is happy, so please don't make him tap-dance. But he's also clearly struggling with some of the same things every successful retired person goes through: the lack of a tangible daily goal, the open-ended afternoons, the sense of wandering. I imagine retirement is a little like being a college kid who comes home for the summer without a good internship. You sort of just hang out, watch movies, do yard work and occasionally go meet up with friends.
Who wouldn't be unsettled, at least to some degree, by that? Now imagine Calhoun, one of the most famously competitive men in basketball, suddenly finding himself without a foe. That's not easy. We paper it over with jokes about rounds of golf, but that stuff is never easy.
All of which seems to be pointing toward one conclusion: We haven't seen the last of Jim Calhoun just yet. More from the Courant:
[...] Calhoun, however, is not sure what more, or what else, he might consider doing. The idea of coaching a national team overseas, for instance, intrigues him. "It would have to be the right situation," he said.
He is talking with satellite radio about doing a sports talk show -- all sports. "I love talking about what makes guys good, in all sports," he said.
I would totally listen to that show.