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New UConn Head Coach Kevin Ollie: "We Will Take the Stairs"

A new era is under way.
Kevin Ollie clapping on the sideline.

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17: head coach Kevin Ollie of the Connecticut Huskies reacts on the sideline in the first half against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

With the banners marking his three national championships, his 1988 NIT championship, his 800th win and his inductions into the College Basketball and National Basketball Hall of Fames peering down at him, UConn men's basketball head coach Jim Calhoun addressed the media and fans inside Gampel Pavilion.

On Thursday afternoon, Calhoun officially retired after 26 years as the head coach of the Huskies and will step into the role of Head Coach Emeritus until the end of the 2012-13 season. Kevin Ollie, a former UConn basketball player and assistant coach for the past two seasons, was named the head coach.

The event wasn't advertised as a public affair, but students filed into Gampel in droves to say farewell to a legend.

UConn President Susan Herbst was the first to address the crowd.

"This is a moment of sorrow, celebration, and admiration most of all for someone who has been a pillar of this community for over 25 years," Herbst said. She described Calhoun's time at Connecticut as "over a quarter century of extraordinary and astoundingly powerful leadership."

"I can't believe my own good fortune that I've had the chance to know him and work with him," Herbst said.

Herbst focused less on basketball and more on the person off the court.

"The world beyond UConn," Herbst said, "the people who watch the him on TV, always entertaining, don't know Jim the man at all. They see a great coach, a great strategist of course, but they don’t see that he is one of the most generous people in the world.”

"He is a legend," she continued, "and he's our legend."

The introduction of Calhoun was met with a standing ovation for one of the greatest head coaches in college basketball history.

Calhoun began by talking about his early years and what it took to build the program he did.

"We had to show everyone," Calhoun said, "that as a member of the Big East that we had a rightful place at the table and as a matter of fact we had a loud voice."

Calhoun went on to discuss the early challenges and success, but made sure that he spent plenty of time saluting the UConn fans, especially the students.

"Our fans," he said, "whether students, faculty, employees, alumni, or just plain Connecticut folks, without you UConn basketball wouldn't be UConn basketball."

"I know many times that you think that it goes unnoticed," he continued, "but every time I walk in Gampel Pavilion and the students stand and clap as I walk in, I get chills. It may go unnoticed, but certainly not to me."

He made it a point to make sure that everyone in attendance knew that they were all part of the "UConn family."

Of course, no one was ever more important to Calhoun, besides his family, than his players.

"I love this team," he said. "They're a group that is going to carry the UConn legacy on. I feel so good about them. No matter what we're playing for, they're playing for UConn. They're playing for the state of Connecticut."

Athletic Director Warde Manuel took the podium after Calhoun.

"Jim is the seminal figure in the history of this program and UConn athletics," he said, "and one of the legends of college basketball period."

"This will be a transition that's tough," he said, "but [Calhoun] is going to be by my side and he's going to be there for Kevin and for this university and that will make it a little bit easier."

Manuel is "very happy" that Ollie agreed to be the next head coach.

"The fact is that Kevin and I and everyone here know exactly what must be done and exactly how we're gonna do it and it's the way that Coach Calhoun has done it for years."

"Kevin is ready to do the work that must be done," Manuel said. "As head coach I know he'll do it well."

He added that nothing changes in the goals for the team.

"Our expectations for tomorrow are exactly the same as they were yesterday," he said.

Ollie took to the podium after Manuel and captivated the crowd with his energy and passion in his address.

"I wouldn't want to be nowhere else than right here," Ollie said. "This is my dream job. I was made for this job."

Ollie got extremely emotional talking about his recruiting trip to UConn, his time with the program and then especially when thanking his family for their support.

"I thought [Ollie's wife Stephanie] was gonna divorce me yesterday" he said. "It was our 14th anniversary and I think spent about 10 minutes with her."

"Y'all fans," he added, "y'all the reason why I can't leave. I'm gonna be right there on the side of the bench. I can't leave you guys. UConn is a special, special, special place...I want to give y'all victories, but I want to present on our team in the way that we're supposed to be presented with strength, with character, with discipline, with focus, with the appetite and integrity to get better and challenging ourselves everyday."

Ollie's next comment, an assertion of the work he promises his team will give, is what fired up the crowd, who were already locked in to every word he had to say and got fans extremely excited for what is to come.

"I want to just say that we're gonna take the stairs and not the escalator because the escalator is for cowards. We're gonna take the stairs and it's going to be one step at a time and we're gonna get there. Your future's not given to you, you gotta take it."