People were offended by his rudeness, boorishness, and arrogance, not any insensitivity or lack of charity.Will Calhoun apologize and get it over with ... ? Will his supposed bosses ask him / tell him directly? ... Calhoun's own intemperateness remains so painful: It has undermined everything else he is and does ... the question now is whether Calhoun is so much bigger than everyone else in Connecticut, so important to the university and the state's self-esteem that he is above ordinary standards of behavior.
The Chris Powell Column
Raises These And Other Questions
EVEN A CAT CAN LOOK
AT A KING -- OR A COACH
By CHRIS POWELL
UConn men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun is all the great things his defenders say, and yes, the freelance journalist and political agitator who baited Calhoun about his salary at a post-game press conference the other day was trying to be provocative. But Calhoun had no excuse for the insulting tirade he hurled at the agitator, a tirade caught on videotape and broadcast throughout the country.
It is said that the salary question "ambushed" Calhoun and was out of place at a gathering meant to discuss the game that had just been played. But the coach's salary and contract terms have been well publicized and discussed over the years, the coach is intimately familiar with the issue, and he could have politely declined to discuss it at that moment and agreed to discuss it later, or not at all. Instead, as if he was on a hair trigger, Calhoun lost his temper and got abusive.
Governor Rell gently scolded Calhoun in public for the embarrassment he had caused himself and the state, and UConn's president and athletic director made mincing statements implying that Calhoun had done wrong and hinting that he should apologize. But Calhoun himself misconstrued the criticism of his conduct, protesting that he did not want to be considered indifferent to the financial trouble facing the state and its residents.
Such supposed indifference is not what offended people. Indeed, most people in Connecticut know that Calhoun undertakes more charity work and makes more charitable contributions himself than nearly everyone else. No, people were offended by his rudeness, boorishness, and arrogance, not any insensitivity or lack of charity.
Regardless of how exactly the revenues of the UConn basketball and football programs add up against their expenses, few in Connecticut will deny that those programs have greatly assisted the spectacular improvements at the university over the past two decades and the national recognition UConn has achieved, the university's keeping better students in the state and attracting better students from out of state. Some people may wish that athletics were not so influential in higher education, but they are, and even if they were not profitable at UConn their price would be small for involving so many people with the university as sports fans. No other state university may have advanced itself with basketball and football as much as UConn has, and few coaches around the country can compare their records with those of UConn's.
Further, Calhoun also has succeeded spectacularly over the years as a sort of social worker, turning sometimes troubled and troublesome young men into stars, not just athletically but academically and personally. Their loyalty to him is always on display. In this respect no other college coach may have accomplished more.
That is why Calhoun's own intemperateness remains so painful: It has undermined everything else he is and does. The co-chairs of the General Assembly's Higher Education Committee, Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, and Rep. Roberta Willis, R-Salisbury, stressed this in a letter to UConn President Michael J. Hogan, asking him to discipline Calhoun. The coach, the legislators wrote, "needs to be reminded that he is a role model for many athletes and students and that his behavior should reflect this position." The coach, the legislators noted, would not accept from his own players the sort of conduct in which he engaged himself.
Losing one's temper is not a felony. But the question now is whether Calhoun is so much bigger than everyone else in Connecticut, so important to the university and the state's self-esteem that he is above ordinary standards of behavior. If he is, that may win UConn a few more Big East and national basketball championships but only at the price of more embarrassment and further diminishment of the good names of the university and the state. That has happened with other college basketball programs around the country, and that price will be too high for UConn and Connecticut.
There's no need for any formal discipline for Calhoun. There is a need for the coach to apologize for losing his temper, just as any other decent person would do, and to pledge to try to control it better. UConn basketball fans will be especially appreciative if such an effort prevents more technical fouls from being called against the coach this season, which has such a good chance of ending in another national championship. Of course with a simple apology Calhoun would be forgiven instantly and affectionately, and Connecticut again could be satisfied that even a cat can look at a king -- or at the realm's highest-paid public employee.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.