Kevin Ollie (Getty Images)In the month since Kevin Ollie debuted as UConn coach with an impressive victory over Michigan State in Germany, there has been a growing push from fans and media members that the first-year coach deserves a contract extension.
Some have pointed to Ollie's sterling reputation in basketball circles and the team's solid 6-2 start under difficult circumstances. Others have noted the difficulty UConn will surely have recruiting when prospects don't know who the head coach will be beyond the end of this season.
I can see that argument because those are valid points, yet I'd argue UConn athletic director Warde Manuel is making a wise choice not making Ollie the permanent coach yet. He has little to gain by giving Ollie a long-term contract now rather than observing him closely the next few months and making a decision at the end of the season.
Ollie has no head coaching experience and only two years experience on the bench at all as an assistant to Jim Calhoun. It's a big risk to hand the keys to your program to someone that inexperienced, especially at a time of great importance for UConn basketball with Calhoun stepping aside and the strength of the Big East in decline.
Furthermore, Manuel finds himself in a bit of a power struggle with Calhoun. It's fairly obvious Calhoun drew out his retirement until September in part to leave UConn with little choice but to hire Ollie, so Manuel's way of asserting his authority to hire the coach he wants long-term was to only give Ollie a contract running through April.
Of course, the problem with this approach is Ollie's chance of succeeding in his trial season are diminished by the problems Calhoun left him.
Not only is UConn ineligible for postseason play this season as a result of APR penalties, offseason transfers by Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith left the Huskies without their usual array of frontcourt talent. As a result, it's unlikely UConn can contend in the Big East and motivation could wane in February once it's clear the conference title is no longer a reachable goal.
As long as Manuel takes these challenges into account when he's evaluating Ollie, he has every right to be patient making his decision. The last thing UConn should want is to rush into an important hire and end up making the wrong hire.
Ultimately, with the work ethic and leadership Ollie showed as a player and the respect he has garnered among his peers, I have little doubt he'll continue to exceed expectations this season and earn the permanent job. Nonetheless, Manuel is smart to take the next few months to make certain Ollie is his guy, even if it costs the Huskies a recruit or two in the process.