The Braintree bully is back tonight. Make no mistake, UConn head coach Jim Calhoun will be cast in that all-too-familiar role this evening when his Huskies take on media darling Butler (9 p.m., CBS) for the National Championship.
Part of the whole deal is a shame regarding Calhoun. There are undoubtedly more people across this country that loathe rather than love him and he now will be thought of as just another college basketball coach that enjoyed bending the rules of recruiting after the Nate Miles "situation" came to light.
Despite taking the program to four Final Fours in 12 years, people don't view him as being in the same class as the Coach K's of the world either. He's forever on the fringe of that conversation, no matter what the outcome is tonight.
And then there is the whole issue of his demeanor, on and off the court. Having been a student reporter at UConn, I witnessed the dark side of Calhoun up close and personal during the 2003-04 season. There were multiple times when I was convinced that the Storrs, Conn. homicide unit would need to be brought in when he barked, cussed, berated and pointed at then Huskies forward-center Hilton Armstrong at mid-court of Gampel Pavilion. During that championship season, Calhoun would also deliver one of the finest post-game rants of all-time when a reporter pushed him as to why he didn't recruit then-Providence forward Ryan Gomes.
"It's been written about, it's been talked about," Calhoun shouted that day. "Don't shake your (expletive) head. You asked me a question, I'm telling you how I feel about it ... I (expletive) up, does that make you happy? ... For the fifth time, I (expletive) up. Write it."
For those that would enjoy the unedited version, simply type in 'Jim Calhoun likes the f word' in your YouTube search bar. Subtle, I know.
The point is, Calhoun doesn't and never has cared about making friends. He'll trash the local media one day and then be warm and fuzzy with the fraudulent folks at ESPN the next. At the same time, he reads all, and I mean ALL of his newspaper clippings.
He can be overwhelmingly charming at times. He cranks up that New England charm with the best of 'em with his old school, Boston accent (inarguably the most authentic kind, the kind that directors for The Departed or The Town could never find).
He begins every other sentence with the phrase, "quite frankly," because, quite frankly, it's the best phrase to keep him from stumbling over his words even more than he already does.
Saturday night, Kentucky's John Calipari stood across the court from Calhoun in the National semi-finals. During the ill-fated UMass-UConn hoops "rivalry" of the '90s, Calhoun labeled Calipari "Johnny Clam Chowder" in reference to Calipari pretending to be a New England original on the recruiting trail.
He shares an arena with Philadelphia-raised Geno Auriemma. Needless to say, Calhoun has never enjoyed the amount of attention Auriemma's women's program gets. In fact, he once glanced at the droves of people entering Gampel Pavilion on a Sunday afternoon for a women's game and sneered, "what is this, the world's largest nursing home?," in reference to the median age of women's basketball supporters.
Being a bully is a large part of Calhoun's legacy and he's probably fine with that. That perception will likely overshadow the charm and the grandfatherly approach he has to coaching and teaching when all is said and done.
He made Reggie Lewis a man at Northeastern. He made Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Donyell Marshall, Clifford Robinson, Rip Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Rudy Gay, Ray Allen and now Kemba Walker men at UConn. He did so in a gruff, no nonsense way that, quite frankly, lacks in today's American society.
Calhoun tells it like it is. He is the definition of old school. He's one of the last true disciplinarians. Don't like it? He won't care.
Calhoun has been reinvigorated by the Huskies unprecedented run of 10 games in a row this March and early April. It might even be enough to carry the 68-year-old through a few more seasons, even though he has said in the past that if he wins one more National Championship, he is done.
He will be suspended for three Big East games next season because of the Miles situation and you just know Calhoun would love to stick it to the NCAA by walking away tonight with the title and never having to serve that sentence.
Tonight, Calhoun's legacy won't change all that much. He will stay a lovable bully to some, simply a bully to most.
But if he does coach his final game tonight, he should be remembered as one of the greatest characters not only in college basketball history, but sports history. They just don't make 'em like Calhoun anymore.