Unless Jim Calhoun's lingering back pain drastically improves in the coming weeks, it doesn't seem likely the legendary UConn coach will be returning to the bench this season.
The school announced Wednesday that Calhoun's indefinite medical leave of absence will continue for at least the next three games, which would mean that the soonest he could return would be Feb. 25 against Syracuse. 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.
It's possible Calhoun could try to grit through the pain to coach his team in the postseason, but those who have spoken to him recently don't paint a rosy picture of his health.
USA Today's Marlen Garcia described Calhoun as "immobile" after a phone conversation with him earlier this week about his future. Interim coach George Blaney also told the Connecticut Post the pain in Calhoun's lower back has "intensified" recently.
"He's still trying to sift through all the information and make a decision," Blaney said. "As we all know, there are so many answers to back ailments as far as what you should do and what you shouldn't do. That's what he's sifting through right now. Hopefully, he'll be able to make a decision shortly and hopefully it will be a quick cure."
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.
Calhoun has given no indication he's considering retirement as a result of his back pain, but it seems likely that's a realistic possibility if the discomfort doesn't decrease in the near future. UConn's new athletic director Warde Manuel was even asked about how he planned to replace Calhoun at his introductory news conference this week.
In the short term, UConn's focus has to be on avoiding the embarrassment of becoming only the fifth team to miss the NCAA tournament the year after winning a championship.
The Huskies (15-9, 5-7) have a winnable game Wednesday night against DePaul before a difficult three-game stretch against Marquette, Villanova and Syracuse. Calhoun's discipline and expertise would surely be useful in some of those games, but it seems likely he'll be watching from his couch rather than the bench.
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