This summer, I attended
Calhoun's response surprised me. "If we had won the championship last year," he said, "I was going to retire."
Later, when my wife also expressed surprise at what Calhoun had said, I told her I didn't believe him. "That man is going to die on the sidelines," I said.
My little quip doesn't seem so funny this morning in the wake of UConn's announcement that Calhoun is taking a temporary leave of absence to deal with an undisclosed medical issue, but it doesn't seem any less true. Calhoun is 67 years old, an age where most people should be making tee times and visiting grandchildren, but he is as intense, as hardworking, as driven, as paranoid and as hungry for a championship as he has ever been. He is also not currently coaching his team, and I can't help but believe that all those factors are linked.
The school's statement did not reveal the precise reason for Calhoun's leave, other than to say it was not related to his past bouts with cancer. SI.com's
It is impossible to know just how long Calhoun's leave will be, but it seems safe to say he won't be returning in the very near future. Otherwise, there's no reason to call this a "leave of absence." Whatever is going on must be quite serious, which is why I hope Calhoun will take this time to do more than just deal with whatever temporary health issue has arisen. I hope he steps back, looks at the big picture and decides to retire at the end of this season.
No doubt people will link Calhoun's leave to what has been going on with Florida football coach
But the reason coaches have so many health issues isn't because the job itself is so stressful. It's because it attracts a certain type of animal who is so intensely driven that he puts his desire to vanquish his foes ahead of more important things like family and health. The only thing more common than coaches getting sick is coaches getting divorced. It's hard to be an attentive dad and husband when you're constantly on the road, watching game tape and fretting about getting fired.
Coaching is the perfect vocation for the hypercompetitive man. If you look around the country, it is very hard to find a college basketball coach who was a top player. Beyond
Calhoun played a little ball -- he graduated the American International College in Springfield, Mass., as the school's fourth all-time leading scorer -- but he was never going to make a living at it. So he poured himself into coaching like few others have, starting out at two high schools before moving on to Northeastern, where he discovered
There was Calhoun earlier this season, throwing his body over the scorer's table at Madison Square Garden because he didn't like a referee's call in a game against Duke. There he was earlier this month in Cincinnati, barely making eye contact with Bearcats coach
Indeed, Calhoun still holds fast to the coach's natural optimism:
Calhoun doesn't need me to tell him how to live his life, and I'm guessing he'll ignore this advice, but I'm hoping against hope that this latest bout with his health will scare him straight. To his great credit, Calhoun has remained an attentive husband and father despite the demands of his profession, and he should consider himself fortunate that he is in good enough shape to hit the treadmill even at the age of 67. The game of college basketball will miss him when he retires, but his family will miss him more if he keeps putting this kind of toll on his body. So please, coach, get out while you still can. The sideline is no place for a good man to die.