Kevin Ollie aces the job interview


NEW YORK -- Everywhere around him, there was joyful chaos -- players piling atop one another for a mosh pit group photo, cheerleaders jumping up and down, administrators bear-hugging and high-fiving each other.

And yet he was still. Kevin Ollie, the man who hops, skips and jumps down the sideline like a jackrabbit on a pogo stick, who claps his hands so hard they surely must ache the next day, who coaches from a defensive crouch as if his perfect positioning might somehow transmit to his players. Kevin Ollie, of all people, was still.

Minutes after Connecticut stunned Michigan State to advance to an improbable Final Four, the Huskies' second-year coach simply turned around behind his bench, donned a new Final Four hat, and walked alone to the middle of the court.

"I don't even know what to say," he said, a broad grin growing on his face. "I can't believe it yet. I can't believe it."

Eventually, he found his mentor and predecessor, Jim Calhoun, to hug. Later his wife, Stephanie, was there, too.

But for a brief minute he was alone, the quiet in the middle of the storm.

Which, really, is what Ollie has been all along.

Shabazz Napier led the Huskies to Arlington with his play on the court, but Ollie's steady stewardship has truly guided UConn to the Final Four.

"He has been amazing, absolutely amazing," assistant coach Glenn Miller said. "He's so positive all the time. No matter what was going on, he was positive. He had a lot thrown at him. I'm not sure a lot of people could have handled it like he has."

To succeed The Man, you must be strong, blessed with an unusual combination of humility and arrogance to make it work -- the humility to recognize while the job title might be yours, the job itself isn't quite yet, and the arrogance to believe that eventually it will be.

When Ollie was tabbed to replace Calhoun in September 2012, first as the interim head coach and eventually as the full-time man in charge at UConn, the talk centered around what Ollie wasn't. He wasn't terribly experienced (just two years as an assistant); he wasn't very old (only 40 when he was hired); and most of all, he wasn't Calhoun.

What people failed to appreciate was what Ollie is.

Beneath all of that demonstrative sideline behavior is a steely confidence. Take him away from a game setting, turn off the clock, and he is quiet and thoughtful. Ignore the pitter-patter of his Yogi Berra slogans and clich├ęs and you'll hear a man who is comfortable and confident in who he is and not terribly worried about being someone else.

"I can't be Coach Calhoun," he said. "I can't build this program up like he did. I can't do that. But I can be Kevin Ollie. I can take some great life lessons I learned from Coach and build on them and forge my own program. And that's all I'm trying to do."

That's what Calhoun tried to tell people: In Ollie, UConn would get a man of high principle and integrity, and a coach who could relate to his players yet ignore the inevitable scrutiny.

"They never agree with anything I say," Calhoun joked when given the chance for an I-told-you-so after the regional final.

He wanted Ollie to be named his coach-in-waiting, but a new athletic director and relatively new university president understandably weren't interested in creating a monarchy.

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