March 3, 2009

Rumble in the (UConn) Jungle

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In the wake of his 799th career victory on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009, University of Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun entered the post-game press conference. However, the topic of conversation was not the top-ranked Huskies’ 64-50 win over South Florida, or the coach’s fast-approaching mile­stone. Freelance journalist and political activist Ken Krayeske asked Calhoun about his $1.6 million salary in light of the state’s billion-dollar budget deficit. Republican Gov. Mary Jodi Rell has asked all state-employee unions for concessions and givebacks.
“Not a dime back,’’ Calhoun barked at Krayeske, regarding his salary.
Unsatisfied by the response, Krayeske pushed the issue and asked about Calhoun’s commercial endorsement deal with Comcast cable television. Calhoun took the bait.
“You’re not really that stupid, are you?” Calhoun growled, showing his aggravation. “… My best advice to you: shut up.’’
Krayeske persisted.
“Quite frankly, we bring in $12 million to the university, nothing to do with state funds,” Calhoun shouted. “We make $12 million a year for this university. Get some facts and come back and see me!’’ He repeated, “Get some facts and come back and see me!’’
Since the incident, the media consensus is the post-game press conference is an improper forum in which to ask such a question. Perhaps, if Krayeske had emailed the coach and set up a one-on-one interview, his questions may have been received better. Calhoun is not completely blameless though, according to most members of the media. In a time of seemingly unyielding economic recession and hardship, the coach’s sarcastic comments painted a portrait of callousness and insensitivity. Unquestionably, Calhoun could have handled it in a more professional manner.
The criticisms of Coach Calhoun by the print and electronic media are certainly justified. However, there is a time and place for everything. Asking Coach Calhoun about his salary after the game is like catching Scarface with 2000 kilos of cocaine and asking him about the red light he ran last week. Questions in a post-game press conference are usually confined to the game that was just played or the team’s next opponent. It hardly seems that this press conference was the appropriate forum to grill the coach on complex economic issues. However, the two-time national champion head coach could have responded with a little more tact while addressing his protagonist. Can you imagine Calhoun’s response if UConn had lost?
Perhaps the most insightful response to this brouhaha came from the bombastic Dick Vitale, who in a broadcast last week claimed Calhoun was underpaid. Clearly, what he meant to say was that the 23-year head coach has transformed the UConn basketball program into a perennial powerhouse, which has subsequently brought name recognition and a lot of publicity to the University. Can you imagine the temper tantrum Dickie V. would have thrown if this had happened to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski? Vitale may look like a man, but he is nothing more than a proud mother when it comes to Coach K.
I wish someone would have had the audacity to ask Bobby Knight a similar question in his heyday. The former Indiana head coach is known for his ability to give a colorful quote, but actions would have spoken louder than words if General Robert Montgomery Knight had been sandbagged in a similar manner.
Although Krayeske got the reaction he wanted from Calhoun, he merely proved his own self-serving ulterior motives.
I still do not understand, by the way, how Krayeske, an UConn law student, was even permitted in the press conference?
Personally, Krayeske has been an inspiration in terms of my own future coach-reporter interactions. Occasionally, I will find myself searching for a follow up question while Cornell hockey head coach Mike Schafer ‘86 is mid-sentence. That follow up question rarely forms before Schafer has finished, and more often than not the resulting query is preceded by more than a few “umm, umm, umms.” However, thanks to my boy Kenny Kray I now have this gem stored away.