At 68, Jim Calhoun wasn't about to go bonkers running around Reliant Stadium like a latter day Jim Valvano after winning his third NCAA title in Connecticut's 53-41 slugfest with Butler. But rest assured no coach ever felt more joyous on the top step of the victory stand than Calhoun.
Timing is everything, and coming as it did in the wake of NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations, including a three-game suspension next season, no victory could have been sweeter than this one. Speaking of Kemba Walker and the young team he led, Calhoun said, "This group will always be incredibly special to me. They're all special in their own way, but I needed this team. Very rarely does a coach say that, but I needed this team every day for 109 practice sessions."
Calhoun needed this Huskies team to underscore all the things he has accomplished in his 39-year career at a time when he is under fire for violations regarding the recruitment of Nate Miles. On Friday, The New York Times published an interview with Miles, who said he was paid by a former UConn student manager-turned-agent, and he claimed Calhoun knew what was going on.
Asked how sweet it was to win under these circumstances, Calhoun said, "The only thing that was hurtful about the NCAA wasn't the situation. I took full responsibility for secondary offenses that took place in my program. There were some people that felt it was a great time to take cheap shots. That was the only hurtful part. People I like.
"The sweetness of it, it's very sweet. You can write what you want, say what you want. I know who I am, where I'm going, what I've done…I couldn't ask for a better gift. It reaffirms everything I believe I've done in my profession. Sometimes, you kind of need that. This is as sweet a ride as I've ever been on in my life, clearly."
Now that he has reached a plateau as one of five men who has won at least three NCAA titles along with John Wooden (10), Mike Krzyzewski (4), Adolph Rupp (4) and Bob Knight (3), some have wondered if Calhoun might choose to retire on top. But he said North Carolina coaching great Dean Smith once advised him not to make that kind of decision "in the great emotion of great things happening to you. Give yourself some time, some space."
When he does sit down to consider the possibility of retirement, Calhoun knows what his criteria will be for making the decision. "It's going to be what I feel passionately, can I give the kids everything humanly possible I can? If I can, I'll coach as long as I can keep on doing it. If I decide that I don't, then I'll move on to something else because I do have an incredible life with my family and friends and other things I can do."
Should he decide to retire, Calhoun was asked, what will his legacy be? Looking as though he just bit into a lemon, Calhoun turned cynical for a moment. "I wonder really what your legacy does become," he said. "Do facts write them, or do other people think they can, by some supposition, define what the facts are or aren't?"
The coach said anyone who is interested in his legacy should talk to the hundreds of players he has coached and talk to his peers he has coached against. "Then, if you want to look at my legacy number-wise," Calhoun said, "that's okay. My dad told me something a long time ago: 'You're known by the company you keep.' That's awfully sweet company."
Wooden, Krzyzewski, Rupp and Knight, he meant. And then, Calhoun rose and walked happily away to enjoy what was left of one of the greatest nights of his life.