Jim Calhoun and his obstinate ways arrived in Connecticut in May 1986, hired to turn around a lowly UConn men's basketball program that seemed destined to remain the laughingstock in a conference of national powers.
"It's doable," he famously said of making UConn a player in the Big East.
He's dreaming, many people figured, not knowing Calhoun and his team would capture the spirit of the entire state with the Dream Season just four years later.
The Calhoun Era at UConn has been, indeed, the stuff of dreams. Calhoun not only turned around the team, he turned it into one of the nation's pre-eminent programs.
On March 29, 1999, the Huskies defeated heavily favored Duke 77-74 for their first national championship — perhaps the most important athletic achievement in state history. On April 5, 2004, two days after defeating Duke in a classic national semifinal, the Huskies easily defeated Georgia Tech for a second national title — a victory that solidified Calhoun's reputation as basketball royalty. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005 and added a third national title to his resume in 2011.
He got some help from Kemba Walker and led UConn to another national title, his third, in 2011. Calhoun has 873 career wins, No. 6 all-time. He is No. 3 in games coached at 1,253. Last season UConn went 20-14, 8-10 in the Big East.
"Jim Calhoun has done as good a job as has ever been done in college basketball history in taking over a program that was at one level and taking it to a totally different place," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. "A lot of coaches have been able to take good programs and even really good programs and keep them at that level or make them a little better, but Jim Calhoun has done something at Connecticut that I really don't think anybody has ever done anyplace else."
And along the way, Calhoun has beaten cancer — twice. He had his prostate removed in 2003 and underwent treatment for squamous cell carcinoma in the summer of 2008.
Calhoun, born in Braintree, Mass., on May 10, 1942, has used his success to champion many causes during his time in his adopted state, raising millions of dollars for cancer research and education. In 1998, Calhoun and his wife, Pat, established the Calhoun Cardiology Research Fund with a $125,000 gift to the UConn Health Center.
Calhoun and his family have also been involved with Autism Speaks. Also, the annual Jim Calhoun Holiday Food Drive has raised nearly $1 million for the Connecticut Food Bank and Foodshare, providing about 1.6 million meals to families in need. In 2008, Calhoun was presented the Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the highest honor of the Coaches vs. Cancer program that recognizes an individual who has demonstrated "unique dedication and devotion" to the American Cancer Society's cause. Beginning in 1994, Calhoun has served as honorary chairman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, another example of his diverse and wide-reaching impact in the state.
Courant columnist Alan Greenberg, who died in 2007, once wrote that "the hiring of Jim Calhoun in 1986 was the most important hire in the history of the State of Connecticut."
Twenty of Calhoun's former players at UConn have gone on to play in the NBA, and more than 60 of his former players attended his Hall of Fame induction. He has led UConn to 10 Big East regular season titles and six conference tournament titles. Having posted a 248-173 record in 14 seasons at Northeastern before coming to UConn, Calhoun had 805 career victories through the 2008-09 season, when he led the Huskies to their third Final Four. He became the seventh major college men's coach with more than 800 wins.
His career hit full stride in 1988, when UConn won the NIT. Two seasons later, the Huskies put together the first of seven 30-win seasons under Calhoun, going 31-6 and earning a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Dream Season, highlighted by a Tate George buzzer-beater against Clemson in the Sweet 16 that will always be known in the state as "The Shot," ended with an overtime loss to Duke in the Elite Eight. That season, Calhoun was named Big East coach of the year for the first of a record four times.
Calhoun was a 1968 graduate of American International College. He was a high school coach at Old Lyme in 1968-69, Westport (Mass.) in 1969-70 and Dedham (Mass.) in 1970-72.
Calhoun lives in Pomfret with his wife. They have two sons, James and Jeffrey, and six grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times