The way I figure it, the scalpel used on Jim Calhoun's fractured hip during surgery Saturday night may as well be used to engrave in stone that he'll 100 percent, for sure, take-it-to-the-bank return for his 27th year asUConn men's basketballcoach.
As his UConn players, past and present, began filing into Mohegan Sun Arena for the Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic, word spread that only a few hours earlier, Calhoun's bike had slipped on some sand near his summer home in Madison, forcing a nasty fall. Given that Calhoun broke five ribs after falling over the handlebars in the 12th mile of a 50-mile charity bike ride in 2009 — he still finished the race — it almost seemed as if someone was playing an inappropriate joke.
But no, it was true.
Anybody who has biked along the Connecticut shore, at the Cape, around Newport, knows that sand can be the mortal enemy of the cyclist. "He also has those shoes that are tied in, clip-ons," associate coach George Blaney said.
The spill had to hurt a septuagenarian plenty. Yet as Calhoun, the toughest, meanest son of a gun in the valley, rests today at John Dempsey Hospital at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, the last thing I expect him to allow is this news lede:
STORRS — A fractured hip suffered in a biking mishap has forced Hall of Fame basketball coach Jim Calhoun, 70, to retire after 40 years at Northeastern and UConn. The three-time NCAA champion and sixth winningest coach in college history…
Not going to happen. No way. He's so freaking stubborn that he'll win the Tour de France before he quits because of this.
When Calhoun's knees went, so did his ability to run marathons and pound pavement. He turned to biking to satiate his cardiovascular fix. And if it is true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, well, Calhoun could use his love of biking to coach until he's 100. Like we said, if it doesn't kill him first.
Athletic director Warde Manuel has said he expects Calhoun to return next season, and while Calhoun has said nothing publicly to the contrary, he also hasn't said flatly that he'll be back. And given the uncertainty over his successor, of what direction the school might turn, that in turn has lead to a streak of uncertainty.
"I can't picture Coach Calhoun retiring, to tell you the truth," Kemba Walker said. "I'm pretty sure he's not thinking about retirement right now. His hip is broke. He's thinking about recovering."
Do you think after this painful incident, he'll use it as a motivating source to say, "Screw you," to the critics, "I'm not retiring"?
"Maybe, maybe, that's how he is," Walker said, breaking into a laugh. "He's a tough guy."
Still, Kemba, you might be the perfect guy to tell him to hang up the pedals.
"Nah, he's got to stay in his shape," Walker said.
If not Kemba, then Blaney, his trusted confidante, has got to be the man.
"We've had that conversation," Blaney said. "Have you ever tried to tell him to do anything?"
Yeah, and it never works out so well.
"He's always going to want to win, always going to want to compete," Jeremy Lamb said. "If anything, this would be something to let him know he needs to rest his body sometimes. I know he's going to fight. I don't know if this will make him coach more or retire more. I just know he is one strong man."
Manuel received word of Calhoun's injury on his ride to the casino. And given that it has been one thing after another since he has taken over as athletic director, Manuel could be forgiven for smiling gently and wondering if he could go one day without another unforeseen encounter.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Jim for a speedy recovery," Manuel said. "He has had some bad breaks the last year or so, and we just have to hope he'll have a speedy recovery."
There is believed to be an impasse right now between Calhoun and Manuel. Calhoun would love to have Kevin Ollie named as the coach-in-waiting. Manuel has balked at such a move.
Let's be real here. After the APR sanctions that have knocked the program out of the 2013 NCAA Tournament and after the scandal at Penn State involving Joe Paterno, the last thing a school can be seen doing is bowing to the wishes of a larger-than-life coach. It would be terribly unwise.
If Calhoun were to pull a last-minute retirement move in September, it would be seen as a kick in the teeth to Manuel and president Susan Herbst, almost forcing them into hiring Ollie. Or would they? Maybe they would name another assistant to spite Calhoun. Either way, it would put Ollie, who Manuel is believed to genuinely like, in a difficult position.
Yes, there are some recruiting hits because of the uncertainty. But to me, the best scenario right now is to elevate Ollie to some higher title, see how he continues to mature as a coach over the next year or two. Chances are excellent that the correct decision on him as Calhoun's successor — either way — will become more and more obvious.
In the meantime, Shabazz Napier does not think that a season without a chance at the NCAA Tournament would lead to an indifferent Calhoun.
"I think he'll take [the season] the same way as he always does," Napier said. "Until the tournament comes around, he really doesn't worry about the tournament. He always wants to prove to everybody that his team in the best in the country. That's what we have to prove for coach. I think that's where his competitiveness comes from, right there.
"I came back because I'm hoping he'll be back. It's looking good so far. I figure what happened today will make him want to come back even more. Everyone else will count him out. 'He's 70, he fell off his bike. …' Coach is a fighter. He's going to come back. This is not the way he'll go out."
So here they all were Saturday: Rudy Gay, Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, so many former stars, all expressing concern for Calhoun, all saying they return to an event like this for him, for a charity through which he and his wife Pat have raised more than $6 million for cardiac research.
"They come for Coach," Blaney said.
"It's unbelievable to see all the love they have for Jim," Manuel said. "That's why I'm sad for him he's not here tonight."
Calhoun has survived cancer three times. He missed time last year with spinal stenosis. The man has sent state sports writers to the medical dictionary so many times that they could qualify to practice in some Third World nations. If Calhoun gets hurt or sick one more time, Blaney, his replacement, is going to be 10th on the all-time wins list. Yet despite all of this, I see this broken hip as cementing his return for 2012-2013.
"I can't see him retiring," Chris Smith said. "After today I still can't see it. He's such a vital part of this program. He is THE program."
Far be it for me to give Calhoun advice at this late date. But I'll try anyway.
Two words, Jim: Stationary bike.