Tuesday, January 15, 2008

10 Years After, Welsh Still Remembers Calhoun's Call

Tim Welsh had just landed the Providence College head coaching job in April, 1998, and not long after his introductory press conference, a fellow Big East coach called to wish him well and offer some advice.

Who was it that called? Was it Jim Boeheim, Welsh’s self-described “mentor,” for whom Welsh had been an assistant at Syracuse from 1988-91? Nope, not yet. Was it John Thompson, Steve Lappas or any of the other big-name head coaches in the Big East? Uh-uh.

It was Jim Calhoun on the line. Welsh had coached against Calhoun once, while with Iona in the NIT, but he didn’t really know him that well. That didn’t stop Calhoun from offering the new member of the Big East coaching fraternity some help.

“He said, ‘Listen, I’m going to try to beat your brains in on the court, but any time I can help you professionally, about the league, anything that goes with the business or being a coach in this league, I want to extend my hand out to you,’” Welsh recalled. “That’s the type of classy guy he is. I always remember that about him.”

Calhoun offered Welsh some advice that day. He knew that the Providence job was a great one, knew that the Friars are essentially the professional sports team of Rhode Island and that there’s great interest in the team. But he also knew it wasn’t an easy job, Providence being a small school with substandard facilities and no on-campus arena. He warned Welsh that there would be pitfalls.

“He knew there’s a lot of people there that expect a lot,” Welsh recalled. “He just said you’ve got to just handle it, that’s all. You can’t get too crazy about it, you’ve got to just do your job, coach your team and run your program the best way you can. There’s always going to be expectations, sometimes they’re fair, sometimes they’re unfair, but he said just coach your team, run your program the right way, the way you know how to do it, and good things probably will happen to you.”

Now in his 10th year at PC, Welsh is the third most-tenured coach in the Big East, behind just Boeheim and Calhoun. But that advice Calhoun gave to him nearly 10 years ago is particularly relevant today. Welsh has two years left on his contract, but the school has been reluctant to offer him an extension. Many view this season as make-or-break for Welsh, who has led the Friars to the NCAA Tournament twice but has no wins to show for it. In fact, in Welsh’s 10 years, the Friars have won exactly one Big East Tournament game.

Entering Thursday night’s PC-UConn battle at the XL Center, the Friars are 11-5, 2-2 in the Big East. They lost their first two conference games (Marquette and DePaul) on the road, but bounced back to beat Rutgers and South Florida at home. Their starting point guard, Sharaud Curry, has been out all season with a stress fracture in his foot and may not play at all.

There were high expectations for the Friars entering this season, but it won’t be easy to live up to them. If they don’t, Welsh will feel the heat – and could very well lose his job.

No better time to heed those words from Jim Calhoun 10 years ago.


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