Kevin Ollie: Connecticut Huskies Extension is a Strange Marriage

By Joseph Nardone
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

One thing and one thing alone has been synonymous with Connecticut Huskies basketball over the years, Jim Calhoun. Calhoun had the ability to convince young people that Storrs, Connecticut was a swell place to play hoops and get an education. While the latter isn’t really a factor for some players, being able to lure top prospects to Storrs is a feat in itself.

After Calhoun retired, UConn gave interim coach Kevin Ollie seven months to prove his worth. Ollie, a former Huskie himself, has taken advantage of the small window of opportunity set before him, earning a five-year contract extension worth just more than $7 million. That’s a lot of time and money for a coach with only 12 games of head coaching experience.

The move likely comes as a way to give the basketball program stability and still seem like a destination spot for recruits. Let’s be honest, no player is going to commit to a program if they don’t know who the head coach is going to be when the come in. That’s not to say Ollie didn’t deserve the extension, but the timing makes one think it was done out of necessity and not out of rewarding the current 10-2 overall record.

There is no track record of success before Calhoun. We don’t even know if the athletic department really knows what they are doing. It’s not their fault, they haven’t had to make a change to their head coaching position since Calhoun took over in 1986. Calhoun actually forced the athletic department’s hand in hiring Ollie with the timing in which he retired.

UConn half-heartily hired Ollie as the interim coach because they had nowhere else to turn. The season was very close to starting and finding “their” replacement wasn’t realistic, given no coaches are taking over a program that close to the start of the season. Ollie seemed as a coach they were forced to keep and they made a point of letting the nation know he wasn’t “their” guy, giving him a seven month audition. Then something weird happened, UConn has rattled off far more wins in the early going than expected. Sitting with a 10-2 overall record, UConn felt the time was right to give Ollie an extension.

So UConn did not believe in Ollie 3 months ago, but after 12 games(and before Big East play even tips-off) they have decided he is worthy of replacing Calhoun for the long-haul.

Ten victories in just twelve games is a great start to any coaches career, in any sport. However, the extension of Ollie feels to soon. Without having a single Big East game under his belt, it’s hard to explain why UConn has decided to make Ollie the guy. With only one real signature victory, opener against the Michigan State Spartans, I can’t imagine his victories over powerhouses like the Stony Brook Seawolves or New Hampshire Wildcats sealed the deal.

No, this is another example of a school putting short-term success ahead of long-tern goals. Just like conference realignment has shown, schools will go for the quick fix rather than look at long-term ramifications it may have. I’m not saying Ollie is the wrong hire, I was actually of the belief he should have had a multi-year deal from the start. What I fear is that the Connecticut Huskies made this decision based off recruiting and recruiting alone.

They decided, since it’s the time on the calendar when recruiting matters, that a 10-2 start was good enough for them. That they needed to make sure, with a conference switch likely to happen, their hoops program would keep up with the Joneses. That Huskies basketball would still be viable next year, even if it’s at the risk of making the wrong hire.

UConn never wanted Ollie to be their head coach. Instead, Ollie forced them to make a decision on him very early on with his non-conference success. It’s one of the strangest coach hirings I have ever witnessed. A more than capable guy not getting any vote of confidence before the season(except from the departing coach), then to show his in-game coach skills were well above-average, only to getting hired by the same people who didn’t want him to begin with.

Whether or not Ollie will be able to lure kids to play in the “exciting” town of Storrs is yet to be seen. If UConn will regret this decision halfway through the Big East Conference schedule is debatable. But what isn’t up for argument is that Ollie was never UConn’s guy and this marriage will be anything but pretty.

You wouldn’t walk down the isle to marry your second or third choice, would you? If you did, you would live the rest of your life in regret while plotting the perfect time to divorce your significant other. Ollie was definitely not UConn’s first choice, for all we know he wasn’t even in the running as a successor for Calhoun.

Don’t be surprised when the first hinting of failure sets in at Connecticut that you start to hear whispers of Ollie’s demise. Ollie was to UConn what that girl at the bar is right before last call. Close, available, and good for a one-night stand, except you got her pregnant.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, Kevin Ollie got the Connecticut Huskies pregnant and out of a sense of responsibility, UConn has married him.

Congratulations to the reluctantly married couple!

Joe covers for the Catholic Seven for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone 

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