OAKLAND — Jim Harrick has finally made it to the Final Four. Jim Calhoun has finally made it to the Final Four. One of them is going to be the first sentence of somebody's story Sunday morning. You put two Jims in a gym. Only one can come back.
"Somebody said (that) to be a coach, I had better develop a thick skin," said Calhoun, whose University of Connecticut team meets Harrick's UCLA Bruins today to boldly go where neither coach has gone before. "I said a turtle's would be even better."
So much is riding on this game. Calhoun tells you how strange it is to have "a whole state" hanging on a game of basketball. Harrick tells you how crazy it has been working a dream job and a nightmare job simultaneously, in a town practically the size of Calhoun's whole state.
"The one thing I'm happy about today is, either Jim Harrick or Jim Calhoun is going to go to a Final Four," Harrick said. "Naturally, I'm a little more happy for myself. But if Jim goes, I'll be happy for him, because he deserves it.
"Just so he knows that if he goes, Jim's gonna find out same as me, that somebody's gonna expect him to do the same thing next year too--or else."
Two Jims in a jam.
Calhoun has won 440 games in collegiate coaching. Harrick has won 332. Yet some choose to discuss only games they haven't won.
"I see UCLA's records the last few years, and I hear about people being disappointed and it's hard to believe," Calhoun said. "Why? Because he's following John Wooden. What John Wooden did, no one else has done and no one else will do. They can't do it at Carolina, at Kentucky, at Indiana, so why would you expect Jim Harrick to do it? Those days are gone, man."
"I feel for Jim Harrick, yes I do," the UConn coach said Friday. "And about 12:48 tomorrow, I'll stop feeling for him."
They play today, tipoff about 12:48.
Calhoun wants to be a turtle? Harrick could use a suit of armor. He took the UCLA job knowing full well the expectations involved. He sat here Friday reflecting on all that.
"You know what I thought, don't you? That I'd be there two years and gone," Harrick said. "Just like some of my predecessors. I never imagined that I'd end up outlasting them this way. I think I've outlasted practically everybody. In my seven years, we've had five different announcers and six different reporters covering the team. I think I'm already third among coaches in the Pac-10 in seniority. Seems like things have stabilized.
"The last few years, they've been so much better than the first couple. Everything's so much better now.
"And, you know, I really hate to say that," Harrick hastily added, "because that could change, real quick."
You get so close, so very close. Under Calhoun, UConn has gone 31-6, 20-11, 20-10, 29-5 and 27-4 in five of the last six seasons. National championships? None.
"Oh, brother, what a business. The faculty wants everybody on your team to be a Rhodes scholar. The fans want you to win every game. The boosters want you to take someone off some waiver wire, pull some great new player out of thin air," Calhoun said, stammering and speed-talking with a New England accent.
"You know what I'm gonna do if I lose this game to UCLA? I'm gonna go home and kiss my wife. This picture of a coach coming home, committing suicide over some game, forget that. I coach basketball for a living. Beyond that, I have a life. Don't you worry about me."
Calhoun took his players on a tour of the Bay Area, let them soak up a little scenery Friday and have lives of their own. He also believes in paying tribute in the holy land of college basketball whenever possible.
"One day when I was in California, I made sure I got myself over to Pauley Pavilion and breathed the air there," Calhoun said. "That place is the shrine of our sport. I've had the privilege of meeting John Wooden on occasion, and once he spoke to me about my 2-2-1 press. I got goose bumps."
Ah, the shrine. A pleasure to visit, but would you want to work there?
"Tour buses stoppin' by, seven days a week," Harrick said. "I'm serious."
Tough being the coach from planet Hollywood.
"He has been attacked, unfairly, I feel," UCLA senior guard Tyus Edney said. "One reason I'd love to win this game most is, maybe it would quiet some people up for good."
The coach of the Mississippi State team that was creamed by UCLA here Thursday spoke afterward in praise of Harrick at great length. Said the subject of this praise: "Richard Williams was very generous and I thank him."
Harrick never knows what anyone will say next. He still cites "talk radio" as the source of many troubles. He also recalls things that Bill Walton said about him, but shrugged that off Friday and said, "Oh, Bill's Bill. He's a great alumnus and a great Bruin and he's apologized for what he said. I just didn't think he needed to make some of those opinions public, but hey, that's life.
"Five people left this job before me, and I think four of them went voluntarily. You just do the best you can for as long as you can."
They say he needed to get this far. Some say he needs to go farther.
"I don't care what they say anymore," Harrick said.