Sports Commentary 6/14/13
George Blaney retires after 40+ years of coaching basketball
ONE OF THE BEST HANGS IT UP
Jim Calhoun recently reminded me that, while we’ve primarily had a more than cordial relationship over the years, with long conversations that extended well beyond the confines of the basketball court into realms that clearly demonstrated the broad scope of the man, we didn’t always see eye to eye on matters pertaining to his basketball program. Fully aware of those differences it was with great trepidation one morning that I opened a letter with a return address from the UCONN men’s basketball program. The letter was signed by associate head coach George Blaney and the subject was not basketball. In fact, it encompassed just about every sport but basketball as he wrote to compliment me on a commentary I had done about the history of Yankee Stadium. He informed me that since his arrival in Connecticut he’d become a regular listener to WTIC and he particularly enjoyed my commentaries. It was classic George Blaney. Little did he know he’d just completed the circle of a mutual admiration society. My arc in that circle had been completed years earlier. I’d spent an entire career admiring George’s work. His college basketball coaching career began at the same time I began my career in the sports media. I was well aware of his accomplishments as a player at Holy Cross, where he scored over a thousand points, but only casually tracked his coaching through his first two jobs, until he arrived at his alma mater and quickly established himself as one of the great minds in the game. When George arrived in the Big East at Seton Hall the local media had a much better opportunity to watch him work up close and to deal with him in press conferences. When Jim Calhoun named Blaney to his staff in the summer of 2001 he pulled off one of the great coups in the history of the sport. Later that summer, when Calhoun introduced me to Blaney, I told Jim it was the smartest move he’d made since he arrived in Storrs. Blaney has a way of sneaking up on you. In many ways he was as he seemed from a distance, quiet, understated, a scholar of the game with a great ability for imparting his knowlege. Openly he was the counter to the demonstrative Calhoun, quietly, however he was just as dynamic. The “good cop, bad cop” personna that publicly defined their relationship only went so far. When it came to the finer points of the game there was little give to Blaney, who demanded his players respect the game and never lose over a failure to pay attention to detail. The simple mistakes, to Blaney, were the most maddening. It was a blessing to Kevin Ollie to have Blaney agree to stay on for his first season as head coach to make the transition from the Calhoun years as seamless as possible. George’s relationship with his players was always a two way street of mutual respect, they never got anything but public support from him. On a personal level George Blaney is one of the best men I have ever known, honest, humble, yet with a sense of self and a sense of humor that always makes him delightful conversation. Yesterday, at age 73, after saying he would know when the time came, George Blaney announced his retirement after 43 years in the coaching profession. The game will miss one of it’s great minds and great gentlemen. When I eventually join George in retirement that letter will find it’s way into a frame and into a cherished place among my souvenirs. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.