Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie, center, speaks DeAndre Daniels, left and Tyler Olander during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Hartford, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. Connecticut won the game 88-73. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)
HARTFORD, Conn. — UConn head coach Kevin Ollie likes to say he needs his players to have “10 toes in, not five” when he talks to them about commitment to the program.
John F. Silver
On Saturday afternoon, the University of Connecticut put all 10 toes in on Ollie.
Ollie signed a 5-year extension that will pay him about $7 million through the 2017-18 season as the spector uncertainity is lifted.
Ollie, who was on a 7-month deal after taking over in September for Jim Calhoun, plans on getting the Huskies right back to work.
The 9-2 Huskies face Washington on Saturday night and do so with Ollie no firmly in place as head coach.
The short-term nature of Ollie’s appointment has hurt UConn in recruiting circles and created uncertainty in one of the top basketball programs in America. Ollie plans on going forward with recruiting without his job status a daily question.
“We are going to do things well and do them right here,” Ollie said. “I am not going here with a 5-year contract. We are recruiting for a lifetime here. We are going to recruit like we are going to be here 20-25 years. The standard of excellence we have at this university will continue. We aren’t talking wins and losses. We are talking national championships and conference championships. That’s what I signed up for (as a recruit out of Los Angeles), to play in those ultimate games. To play in a great conference and to play in national championship caliber games. That won’t stop, not under my watch and not with the support I have academically and up stairs. “
Ollie is a Los Angeles native who played at UConn from 1991-95 and spent 13 years in the NBA. He is in his third year as a coach in Storrs and was promoted when Jim Calhoun retired in September. Athletic Director Warde Manuel has come under criticism about putting Ollie on such a short-term deal, but was adamant he wanted to see Ollie, who turned 40 on Thursday, in the role of head coach.
A 9-2 start and passing grades this semester was enough for Manuel.
“The one thing nobody knew about Kevin was how he would be as the head coach,” Manuel said. “What I saw in practice and I saw before games, and I saw he made adjustments at halftime is that Kevin could coach. He could lead this team and put them in the right position to win on the court.”
One by product of Ollie’s long-term deal is recruiting. The Huskies lost out on several top recruits for 2013 with the coaching situation looming large.
“We might have had recruits go to others schools, but that always happens,” Ollie said. “I can’t control that. What I can control is right now. We are going to go out on that beaten path and get some great recruits, they will come to a great university and get a great degree here and perform in front of the greatest fans. They will also be able to be around a great coaching staff that will nourish them and love them and a support system not only on basketball court but for life. Whomever recruits are out there, it’s a great place and hopefully you will be involved in it.”
The Huskies are ineligible for the 2013 postseason due to a poor academic progress rating and Manuel has that looming large in Ollie’s contract. There are penalties and bonuses for academic performance if Ollie can’t get the APR above 930 for two consecutive years he can have pay withheld and even terminated for cause with not buyout. When the Huskies’ score stabilizes above 930, that clause will go away.
“The APR is not his and his alone,” Manuel said. “I feel a great deal of responsibility for how our students do academically and how the student athletes in basketball in particular do. That’s my first priority is that we are recruiting student athletes that want to come to UConn and get a great education and play great athletics. Kevin is not alone, regardless of what that language says. It’s important for us to consider where we are, for me to have included in the contract language that this is so important to where we are, and where we start that I put it in the contract.
“Once we get to 930 and stabilize, Kevin will revert to what every other coach has in his contract. The emphasis early on is that this is a key component of what you are going to do as the head coach for the men’s basketball program…it’s such an important part of where we are today we couldn’t ignore it and had to put strong language in the agreement.”
Ollie agreed to the language and feels it’s his job to meet the academic criteria as well as winning and losing.
“I agreed to it because I have a belief system in my student-athletes,” Ollie said. ”We are going to get it done and we will get the right kids in here. The support staff we have, we can cultivate a great learning experience for our guys on the basketball floor…We have a great staff here and I believe in these kids. I have all the faith in the world in my student-athletes and me and the coaching staffs ability to touch them not only in basketball.”