On Wednesday, it was reported that UConn president Susan Herbst ruled that former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie’s firing over recruiting violations was justified and officially terminated him, thus costing Ollie the remaining $10 million on his contract. The same night, a public records request from the Hartford Courant revealed the specifics of the NCAA and UConn investigation into Ollie. Truthfully, the violations, even if all of them are true, ain’t worth $10 million, or even a fraction of that.
Ollie, the former Huskies head coach, was initially fired in March—the move was not all that surprising, given that an NCAA investigation had started in January and the school was eager to shed Ollie’s big contract. The Huskies then went out and hired Dan Hurley as their new coach just two weeks after giving Ollie the boot. During this time, neither UConn nor the NCAA would say which recruiting violations Ollie was being accused of committing, with the UConn administration abstractly claiming it had “just cause” to cut him loose. The obscurity of the situation (and the $10 million it cost Ollie) led the former coach to appeal the decision.
This is a good time to stop and remember that the school stood by former coach Jim Calhoun when he was suspended for three games in 2011 for “failing to create an atmosphere of compliance.” Not only did he miss three Big East games, but UConn faced scholarship reductions and three years of probation. The school admitted to the violations and then backed Calhoun the entire time—it probably helped his case that he’d been at the helm for 25 years and that UConn won the 2010-11 NCAA title.
Over the past two years, Ollie has had no such luck, going a combined 30-35 with no NCAA tournament appearances. He led UConn to the title back in 2014, but four years is a long time in the world of college basketball. As Thad Matta proved, if you aren’t trending up and recruiting well, your ass is expendable. The difference here is that UConn does not care about parting amicably with Ollie—the Huskies want that $10 million.
In going after it, UConn and the NCAA relied heavily on an interview given by former UConn assistant coach Glen Miller. This is important because Miller was fired from the Huskies staff in 2017. He had been on staff at UConn since Calhoun started in 1986; he now works at St. Joseph’s, where Calhoun is working as well. It’s not hard to read this as a case of a disgruntled ex-employee popping off against a new, now former boss. It also helps that the NCAA promised him immunity for his testimony.
As Miller and the public records tell it, these are the sacred NCAA rules Ollie violated:
- Ollie set up a call between Ray Allen and a recruit on his assistant’s phone. This is technically a no-no because Allen, who played at UConn, is not considered a former player by the NCAA. According to them, he’s a booster, and boosters can’t talk to recruits.
- While “in street clothes on his way to lunch,” Ollie stopped and shot some hoops with recruit James Akinjo during his official visit last September. Akinjo’s aunt filmed it and later deleted it from Twitter when the Courant covered it. This was a violation that UConn self-reported to the NCAA because their compliance team found that Akinjo was still in high school and hadn’t been medically cleared for college sports.
- Miller believes that Danny Griffin only got his non-coaching staff position because he’s buddies with Ollie (welcome to college basketball ... and every other industry). He also claims that Griffin twice contacted recruits and violated NCAA rules, and that when Miller reported this to Ollie, he got, “a strong impression from him by his conduct and his interactions after that, that he didn’t want to hear that from me.”
- Ollie’s other buddy, Derreck Hamilton, held workouts for UConn players, not recruits, both on-campus and, during the summer, in Atlanta.
That’s it. Ollie’s buddy on staff called recruits two times when he shouldn’t have; his other buddy ran a few shootarounds. UConn’s most famous men’s basketball alum can’t talk to potential players because ... he’s UConn’s most famous men’s basketball alum. And Ollie shot a basketball at a hoop with a person he wanted to recruit—again, Akinjo was shooting a basketball with a 45-year-old man, who was on his way to lunch, not playing full-court pickup.
In terms of what UConn is citing from the NCAA investigation to use in its justification for Ollie’s firing, this is all the school is using to bolster its “just cause” claim. Miller also told investigators that his wife told him the mother of a player claimed Ollie had her paid $30,000 in moving and living expenses to be closer to her son during his playing days, but UConn is not pursuing that claim in its case because as far as the upcoming legal case goes, it has to be able prove all these things happened.
If you want the guy gone because he’s only posted a shitty record over the past two years, fine—it’s a valid reason for a program with UConn’s legacy. But to hang up $10 million on a handful of recruiting violations that happen at every big school in the country is remarkably petty. Ollie will now take the case to arbitration, where he will hope for a favorable ruling and the return of his money.