Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun hasn’t decided if he will return for his 27th season after securing the school’s third national title in early April though it’s expected he’ll coach at least one more campaign. So, who are the top candidates to take over one of the nation’s top jobs when he does leave?
Shaka Smart (VCU head coach)
Smart’s inclusion on this list is almost mandatory. He has been named as a candidate for nearly every open job – and for good reason. Smart, 34, is the hottest coach in the country after leading VCU to an improbable berth in the Final Four. He would be a long-term hire for the Huskies, who would love to follow Calhoun with another coach who’s in it for the duration. The program is at the level where it is a destination job, not a stepping stone.
One has to wonder, though, how the young Smart would fare – at least in the short run – in a league with established coaches Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins. Smart most likely would be a second or third option for the Huskies unless he can recreate VCU’s March magic next season.
Sean Miller (Arizona head coach)
Miller is a Big East guy – he played at Pitt in the late 1980s and early ’90s – and those who know the league realize how much that’s worth. The Big East offers a unique challenge. Not only is it one of the toughest leagues on the court, a coach must recruit against the legacies of his opponents and their tenured coaches. In addition, Miller was the first permanent Arizona coach after the retirement of Lute Olson. He certainly knows how to take over for a legend.
However, Miller has just inked an extension with Arizona and says he’s in it for the “long haul.” We’ve heard that before. The UConn job, coming off a national title, might be too good to pass up with a chance to move back East and more money.
Josh Pastner (Memphis head coach)
Pastner and Calhoun have one thing in common: they both coached Emeka Okafor. But that’s where the similarities end. Pastner, now 33, guided Okafor’s Houston area AAU team. He also was a walk-on for Arizona’s 1997 national title team.
On the other hand, Calhoun’s blue collar Boston-area upbringing has been well-documented. He has always used that fighter’s attitude in his coaching. Whether it’s accurate or not, Pastner instead seems like the boy-wonder. But the kid can coach. Like Miller, he took over for a name-brand, replacing John Calipari, and has had great recruiting success.
If Miller indeed stays at Arizona for the long term, there wouldn’t be a better job for Pastner to have than UConn.
Kevin Ollie (Connecticut assistant coach)
Ollie would be a favorite among UConn fans. He played point guard for the Huskies from 1991-95, during which time the program was rising to prominence. A college teammate of Ray Allen and a 13-year NBA veteran, Ollie certainly has some valuable basketball experience. He would also inject some youth into the program while keeping the job in the family.
However, Ollie only has one year under his belt as an assistant. It had been assumed that Ollie is being groomed for the job, but it’s clear he needs more time. If Calhoun steps away in a year, how could Ollie possibly be ready?
Tom Moore (Quinnipiac head coach)
Moore’s name was dragged through the mud as an assistant for the Huskies, with whom he was involved in the recruitment of Nate Miles. He later was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the stench around it may prohibit him from returning to Storrs. The Miles incident aside – no matter his involvement – Moore built a reputation as a solid recruiter under Calhoun, bringing in some of the country’s best talents.
However, he has yet to make the NCAA tournament at Quinnipiac, where he has compiled a 75-51 record with one NIT appearance. Moore would have to start making the Big Dance if he wants any chance at returning to the Husky program.
Ted Woodward (Maine head coach)
Woodward is a longshot candidate. An assistant during Calhoun’s early years with the Huskies (1986-89), Woodward is familiar with the program. He helped Calhoun resurrect the Huskies from the abyss, culminating with an NIT championship in 1988. Woodward also knows New England, where he has been the head coach at Maine since 2004. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Maine, Harvard and Central Connecticut since 1989.
However, Woodward had a better shot to coach the Huskies two decades ago – if Calhoun wasn’t there, of course – than now. UConn won’t dip into the America East for its next head man. Woodward would have to land somewhere else and prove himself there to get a shot at replacing Calhoun.
If Calhoun sticks around three or four more years, you have to like Ollie’s chances. It would be a huge hit with former players and alumni. But we don’t see Calhoun sticking around that long.
In that case, Jeff Hathaway would be crazy to give away one of the best jobs in the country to someone still learning how to be an assistant. We know Miller said he’s staying in Tucson, but he appeared to seriously consider heading to College Park and Connecticut is a much better job. Connecticut will certainly offer Miller at least the $2.6 million they are currently paying Calhoun per year and in the end, we see money winning out as usual.