Already mired in a disappointing stretch of six losses in eight games, UConn received some far worse news Friday.
Jim Calhoun, the legendary coach who has led the Huskies to three championships during his 26-year tenure, announced he's taking an indefinite medical leave of absence. The 69-year-old Calhoun has been suffering since the summer from spinal stenosis, a lower back condition that causes him severe pain and hampers mobility.
"Last summer, Jim had some significant back pain and has seen two excellent back specialists," said Dr. Peter Schulman, Calhoun's primary care doctor. "The initial approach recommended to him was stretching, physical therapy and exercise, and that was successful for several months. It turns out that there is some degenerative problem in the lumbar vertebrae and it's impinging on the nerves.
"Over the last several days, things have become worse and he is not able to deal with this on a day-to-day basis, so other options need to be considered. Right now, he is physically unable to coach."
Back problems are just the latest in a string of health issues Calhoun has faced during the past decade. A three-time cancer survivor, he overcame prostate cancer in 2003 and skin cancer twice, most recently in 2008.
The release from UConn gave no indication Calhoun is considering retiring as a result of his back pain, but it seems difficult to believe that's not a realistic possibility if the discomfort doesn't decrease.
First of all, Calhoun will turn 70 in May and his health problems are likely to continue with age. Furthermore, Calhoun strongly considered retiring after winning a championship last season before returning in part because he felt he had a responsibility to see the program through NCAA and academic sanctions levied last year.
The absence of Calhoun will be another distraction for an already struggling UConn team, but at least the Huskies should be accustomed to being without their coach. An NCAA-mandated suspension sidelined Calhoun for the opening three games of Big East play this season.
UConn went 2-1 in that stretch, defeating St. John's and South Florida before losing to Seton Hall. The Huskies need to beat the Pirates at home on Saturday or they'll fall to 4-6 in the Big East with road games at Louisville and Syracuse up next.