The early candidates to become the next head coach of the UConn men’s basketball team following the dismissal of Kevin Ollie this past Saturday are former Huskies coach and Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley, and former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta.
Connecticut Athletic Director David Benedict may also wait out the NCAA tournament to try and pin down the “next big thing” in college basketball coaching that typically emerges this time of year.
Calhoun did not rule out returning to coach the program he helped build into a four-time National Champion. He also made it clear that whoever lands the job has to have clout in college basketball circles as he believes UConn is still a marquee college basketball job despite the past few ugly seasons.
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“UConn is not, by any stretch of the imagination a mid-major job, not by our fans, not by the culture that we’ve built,” Calhoun told The Hartford Courant this past weekend. “It’s a major college basketball job and it should be treated like that.”
Calhoun will aid Benedict in making the decision on the next head coach of the storied program and surely will want to land a big name if he does not choose to come back himself.
Matta, the former Ohio State coach, is the biggest name available and it’s likely that UConn would at least gauge interest. Matta is a hot candidate for the Georgia job right now.
Matta has had health issues in recent years which helped contribute to his dismissal from Ohio State last summer. But at just 50 years of age, and given all the success he had with the Buckeyes (two Final Four trips, recruitment of top players Greg Oden, Michael Conley Jr, Evan Turner, D’Angelo Russell) – there is no doubt Matta will coach again somewhere.
Hurley is a more likely candidate than Matta, however. The jump from URI to UConn is a clear step-up and Hurley – at age 45 – is in the business of making leaps at this stage of his career. He stayed just two years at Wagner before taking the Rhode Island job in 2012.
Hurley’s Rams have gone a highly impressive 50-16 the past two seasons. One of his assistants is Tom Moore, who was Calhoun’s right hand man throughout much of the school’s glory years. Moore told the Courant last year that Hurley reminds him greatly of Calhoun.
“The more I’m around Danny, there is a lot of coach Calhoun in him,” Moore said. “He’s got that singularity of purpose, that 365 day a year grind to him. He’s protective of his kids and all about culture and the team. He is not going to let anything get in his way of making sure they’re good. I didn’t know coach [Calhoun] when he was this age, but I picture him going from Northeastern to UConn, see so many similarities.”