There is so much uncertainty surrounding the future of the UConn basketball program. Thanks to the latest round of conference realignment, the Huskies have found themselves in a difficult spot. The Big East as we know it is dead. The seven non-football schools have followed Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia and Rutgers out the door, meaning that in the not-so-distant future, UConn could end up headlining a new and moderately-improved Conference USA.
Or they could find themselves playing leagues games against the likes of New Mexico and UNLV in cross-continent conference.
Or they could be the next addition to the ACC. Or the Big Ten. Or the Big 12.
If the past few years have taught us anything about the structure of college athletics, it's that we never know what the next seismic shift will be or when it will occur. UConn could be the beneficiary of the next round of realignment. Or they could once again be left out in the major conference cold. The point is that we don't know. No one does.
Which is why the contract that UConn AD Warde Manuel awarded Kevin Ollie is so important. There is so much that is in doubt about where this program will be in two or three or four years, they couldn't afford to allow any speculation about who would be the man tasked with rebuilding the UConn program to continue. Ollie, who had been working on a seven-month contract that was set to expire in early-April, signed a five-year deal on Saturday afternoon, just a couple of hours before UConn was set to take on Washington at the XL Center in Hartford. The deal will pay him more than $7 million.
"He's the epitome of a UConn Husky," Manuel said during a press conference to announce the signing. "He's shown that he can coach, lead this team on the court and academically. He's been a great colleague, not only to me and the assistant coaches, but to the head coaches and the student athletes."
As you would expect, Ollie thanked anyone and everyone that helped him earn this contract and this position. The AD. The school president. Jim Calhoun. His coaching staff. But the last thank you, Ollie said "is my team. They performed." And that, more than anything, is why Ollie finally got that contract. The Huskies are 9-2 on the season, which includes a season-opening and surprising win over Michigan State on a military base in Germany. UConn has played inspired basketball, and the team has been vocal that this season is not only about playing for a Big East championship but about helping ensure that the future of the program would be in Ollie's hands.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, that's about all that this season holds in store for them. Because of couple of low APR scores, UConn is banned from the 2013 postseason, and the team's success in the classroom played a major role in today's decision.
"I think the timing of today was about seeing what the student-athletes did under his leadership academically," Manuel said. "Obviously it was very, very important in general and very important for where the program is right now."
The contract Ollie signed contains some strong language about APR scores and UConn's grades in the future. He'll get a $10,000 bonus if his team's APR score is above 930 and a $50,000 payout if the team's four-year average is above 930. But he'll lose two weeks pay if UConn scores below that level for one year, with a suspension and possible termination resulting from two consecutive years of an APR score that low.
Ollie is the right choice to take the reins of the UConn program. He's a UConn alum. He's Jim Calhoun's hand-picked successor. He's a class-act that not only values wins on the court but prioritizes good grades and community outreach. On Thursday, he took his team to Newtown to visit with some of the survivors of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He's proven that he's capable of coaching up his team, and he also managed to land a pair of talented recruits -- center Kentan Facey and shooting guard Terrence Samuel, both New York natives -- despite dealing with so many uncertainties in the future of the program.
And while UConn's conference future is still up in the air, at least the program will be able to definitively state who their head coach will be for the foreseeable future.
"You learn from the past, you don't live in the past. So I'm not living in the past," Ollie said. "We're going to do things well and we going to do things right. That's what it says on the paper, but we are recruiting for a lifetime here. We're going to recruit like we're going to be here for 20 or 25 years."