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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thoughts on Jim Calhoun's Post-Game Rant

You can read about it here, the tirade that Connecticut men's hoops coach Jim Calhoun embarked upon recently. A make-believe journalist (a community activist) asked Calhoun questions about his salary (which exceeds $1 million) in light of the State of Connecticut's almost $1 billion budget deficit. Calhoun didn't take kindly to the questioning, and he told the questioner to shut up, among other things. That outburst, in turn, has drawn criticism from Connecticut's governor, who said she believes that Calhoun regretted the incident. I have a few (and probably conflicting) observations about the entire affair.

1. The questioner has the right to ask the questions about the details of Calhoun's salary. The questioner took a swipe at the sports reporters on hand, saying that he was asking his questions because the beat reporters weren't. That comment drew razzes from the beat reporters, probably because they know it's true. Sports reporters generally want to cover the games and only the games, and nothing surrounding them (if you don't believe me, then why did the entire baseball writers' corps miss the whole steroids era -- until after it happened). Calhoun's compensation is fair game, even if it's probably not the best idea to ask those questions right after a game.

2. I am conflicted about Calhoun's overall compensation. On the one hand, if he helps bring in a significant amount of revenue, then he's a salesman for the school the way salesman drum up orders for all sorts of products. He has developed a good brand, he has won two national titles, and he brings in a lot of revenue. We have a tendency, especially in our current economic and political culture, to knock success or to question how someone got there. Clearly, the economy is in trouble and has been for a while, and many have been hurt, some by their own greed, others by their own ignorance or stupidity, and others because, well, they invested in the markets with everyone else and acted prudently but got hurt because everyone got hurt. The political campaign was marred by class warfare, the media has gotten into the act, and so has Congress. So, it's easy to throw brickbats at Calhoun or anyone who is successful, because, well, many people are hurting and here's a guy making over a $1 million a year coaching a kids' game.

On the one hand, I feel strongly that we should honor and pay for excellence. I encourage the kids that I coach to play tough defense and convert steals quickly in the transition game because I want them to win, I want them to learn team play, and I want them to see the cause and effect -- that effort causes positive results and excellence. I won't apologize for that, I won't back down from that, and, no, I'm not a screamer or a schemer, but an encourager and someone who prepares and sticks to the fundamentals as a coach. Even if our leagues are about giving everyone a trophy for showing up, life isn't usually that way. No, I don't get off on humiliating people or making them feel bad if they lose, but we should seek excellence and achievement at every opportunity, and we should reward it. Calhoun, under that paradigm, deserves his rewards.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the high pay of college coaches because, well, they coach kids' games, and I am concerned that we overemphasize intercollegiate athletics at the expense of the education of the average kid and that we might even be exploiting some of the players, who won't graduate and probably will emerge from college unprepared for a life outside their games. So, when I see a guy like Calhoun get that much money, I have a cause for pause. Not because I think that Calhoun is dishonest or corrupt, but because I think that the priorities aren't right. There's a difference, and many will disagree with me. Still, we need to be careful about slamming Calhoun because of his success. We need people to be successful in all walks of life in many ways, despite political rhetoric to the contrary.

3. Calhoun had a bad day. He's usually pretty engaging and candid, and the whole thing should be permitted to blow over. Yes, the State of Connecticut, like most governments, has tough choices to make, and, yes, the question is fair. But let's cut Jim Calhoun a break and forgive him for his outburst. At the same time, let's get the questions answered and ensure that there is transparency as to how much these programs cost and how much revenue they generate.

So that's my take on the Calhoun affair. What's yours?


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...


Since you asked, here is my comment on the "Calhoun Contretemps" from my column today...

6:45 PM  
Anonymous CBell said...

He blew it. He could have made a much better case for himself, and he could have taken the high road - something along the lines of:

"That's a fair question, and I often wonder how I got to be so lucky. In our society, I guess, people generally get compensated not by their value to society but by their value to the economy - by their ability to generate revenue. I'd say that's more or less how my salary is determined. Our program brings in a lot of money - I hear it's something like 10 times what I'm paid - so that's how someone comes up with the number.

"Having said that, I have to tell you that I consider myself one of the luckiest people I know. I have a job I love, I work with some great - GREAT - young men who work as hard as anybody to excel at what they do. And I have the support of the best college sports fans there are. If my bosses - the President of the University, the Governor, and people of Connecticut - think I'm not doing my job, well, I hope they'll let me know.

"Me and my guys do our work right out in the open, twice a week, for 5 months a year, with 15,000 people in the house and a few hundred thousand others watching at home. I think I'm as accountable as anyone, but I'm not the one to judge. Like I said, that's up to the University and the great State of Connecticut. I'm grateful to them, to my players, and to our fans."

But he's Jim Calhoun, so he spoke without a filter. That's probably why he's so successful AND and why he's so popular. We UConn fans are lucky to have Jim and Geno on the postgame highlight reel night after night, year after year...

8:38 PM  
Blogger Jake Lunemann said...

I am not sure about UConn but most major programs have their coaches salaries (or a major part of them) paid by the enormous booster clubs. The assistants make quite a bit but they run all sorts of camps in the summer which cover almost all of their salaries. Other than paying for travel, food, hotels, etc., what is the taxpayer really shelling out their hard earned money for?

12:04 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, everyone. I suppose part of what makes people succeed is their determination and not letting the detractors get you down, so Calhoun's reaction isn't surprising. Sometimes, though, the very successful surround themselves with people who tell them their great and enable them, and then the successful people start believing in their own b.s. and start thinking that the rules don't apply to them. Translated, Calhoun probably thinks, to a degree, that he's bullet-proof because of his success and all the good that he has done. I'm not a UConn fan or a Connecticut resident, so I'm not close enough to know whether Calhoun is a good guy or not. Clearly, he could have handled the situation better.

As for the involvement of boosters, that's a sad statement, because then the university loses control over its mission and its employee. It's dangerous when a school permits any one person to become bigger than the institution, whose mission and vision should remain preeminent. Indiana had a problem with Bob Knight because he thought he was bigger than the school, and I have a sense that Coach K might have become bigger than Duke too. I'm not sure, though, that Calhoun lacks humility -- he seems to be a pretty grounded guy. Then again, sometimes people who've won championships inadvertently gravitate to the point where they think that they're not accountable, in this case, to a guy who asked a question that hit a nerve.

That's enough analysis from me. As I said, Jim Calhoun had a bad moment with the guy who asked the question. I don't think there's much more that we can read into it.

1:01 PM  

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