Monday, September 17, 2012

UConn Picked Calhoun over Buonaguro in 1986

It's interesting, in the wake of Jim Calhoun's sudden decision to retire as UConn's long time men's basketball coach, to remember what almost was ...

It was 1986 when Calhoun's predecessor Dom Perno resigned after four consecutive losing seasons.

UConn administrators launched a regional search for a replacement. The final two candidates were Calhoun and Mitch Buonaguro, who is now entering his third season as Siena's head coach.

The knee jerk reaction is to say that UConn made the right choice. Buonaguro has never been a head coach above the mid-major level, got fired from his first job as head man at Fairfield in 1991 after six seasons there and didn't get another chance until Siena promoted him prior to the 2010-11 seasons after he served as Fran McCaffery's lead assistant with the Saints the previous five seasons.

Back in 1986, though, UConn's choice wasn't a clear one.

Buonaguro was one year removed from being part of an NCAA championship-winning staff, Rollie Massimino's lead assistant for the 1984-85 Villanova team that pulled off one of the sport's biggest upsets, a victory over the Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown team in the title contest.

Buonaguro had prepared the game-winning scouting report.

Shortly thereafter Fairfield hired Buonaguro and, in his first season there, he directed the Stags to a 24-7 record and its first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

And, then, UConn was interested.

Buonaguro was 32 years old at the time.

Calhoun was 44 and had never coached above the mid-major level in any capacity. He was a high school coach until moving to Northeastern. That school had a vacancy for a head coach in 1972, but failed to attract at least a half dozen of its primary candidates before settling on Calhoun, who had been 18-0 at nearby Dedham (Mass.) H.S. the previous season.

Calhoun directed Northeastern to a 19-7 record his first season there (1972-73), but the program reverted to mediocrity (75-75) over its next six seasons.

And, then, Calhoun turned things around, bringing in future NBA player Perry Moss, among others and, later, the late Reggie Lewis. Over his last seven seasons Northeastern became the powerhouse of the old North American Conference (which then included current MAAC members Siena, Canisius and Niagara) and ran up a 154-55 record and five trips to the NCAA tournament.

It was enough to attract UConn, which gave the position to the older, more-experienced Calhoun over Buonaguro.

Buonaguro then took his second Fairfield team to the NCAA tournament, despite a 12-15 regular-season record (it won the league's post-season tournament). In his next four years, though, Fairfield had a 33-80 record and Buonaguro was relieved of duties.

He had a successful run as an assistant coach for the next five seasons at Texas A & M, for seven seasons after that at Cleveland State (reunited with Massimino) and, then, moved to UNC Greensboro to coach under McCaffery, who he followed to Siena in 2005.

Siena gave him another chance to be a head coach, but his first team had graduated its core of talent and finished 13-18. Last season, a rash of injuries and two key ineligibilities left Buonaguro with, basically, a six-man playing group. The Saints were a very respectable 14-17.

This season, Siena is poised to finish among the leaders in the MAAC.

But, UConn made the right choice back then. It picked a coach who not only vitalized a program, but took it to three NCAA championships during his time there.

1 comment:

Alex Alubankudi said...

Good stuff.. makes you wonder