On Thursday afternoon, the 2017-18 season for the UConn Huskies ended not with a bang, but a sad, sad whimper. The Huskies trailed by nineteen at the half against an SMU team missing its best player and multiple key reserves due to injury. A half-hearted second half rally at one point cut the margin to four, but it was always going to be too little, too late. As Jeff Jacobs of Connecticut Heart Media put it, UConn basketball has hit rock bottom. The only plausible play for the beleaguered program is to remove Kevin Ollie.
True UConn fans will be forever grateful to Ollie for his many contributions. He gave them four great years as a player, then served as a prime example of hard work in Husky blue paying off during his long NBA career. Following his playing days, he returned as an assistant coach, during which his stint was marked by a 2011 national championship. When Jim Calhoun, arguably the greatest coach in college basketball history, retired, Ollie was tabbed to replace him.
This was during a rocky period marred by NCAA penalties, including a postseason ban, and a wave of conference realignment that left UConn behind. Still, Ollie persisted during those first two years, keeping the program respectable in the last year of the real Big East, then doing the unthinkable: cutting down the nets in 2014. Ollie, and UConn, were once again on top of the college basketball world.
First, it was the Los Angeles Lakers. Then, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Ollie became one of the hottest names on the NBA coaching carousel. To preserve their hero, UConn extended Ollie with a lucrative contract that paid him over $3 million dollars annually. It seemed like the Huskies had done the impossible: replaced a legendary coach with another legendary coach, if only in his infancy. What has followed is nothing short of a travesty.
UConn mightily underachieved in 2014-15, ending up in the NIT, despite being the defending national champion. The program entered 2015-16 with high expectations, but largely failed to deliver on those promises, instead flaming out in the round of 32 against Kansas. Then, the last two years happened: utter failure in all facets of the program. Recruiting. Player retention. Development. Teaching. Winning games. Between 2016 and 2018, UConn basketball, a legitimate blue blood and owner of four national championships in the last twenty years, went 30-35.
Injuries most definitely played a part. Alterique Gilbert was a 2016 McDonald’s All-American who has not played a game in December or later in either of the last two seasons. Terry Larrier missed most of 2016-17 with a torn ACL. Nearly every player on the team the last two seasons has missed at least some games due to an injury. But injuries did not cause three potential rotation pieces to transfer out in the spring of 2017. Injuries are not the reason top 2017 and 2018 recruits have avoided the Huskies like the plague. For most players, injuries are not the reason they and their coach continue to make the same, stupid mistakes every game. And injuries surely aren’t to blame for an NCAA investigation into the program for recruiting practices, though it is not believed that the results of this investigation will produce heavy punishments.
It is now clear after six seasons that Kevin Ollie is in over his head as the head coach of UConn basketball. This is not the same man, the same program, that guided them through those first two seasons with incredible results. There are a multitude of different theories tossed around by Husky fans as to why Ollie and the program have declined so starkly, though these are nothing more than conspiracy. The truth of the matter is that UConn basketball has hit rock bottom under the watch of Kevin Ollie. Paying his $10 million buyout will certainly be difficult for a cash-strapped state. But it must be done. Keeping Ollie and the current status quo will in the long run cost the university several times that amount.
So, once again, thank you Kevin Ollie. There have been unimaginable good times. But it is in the best interest of everyone that the program moves forward under different leadership.
Photo Link: https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2015/01/02/ap-bkc-uconn-ollie-divorce