Jeff Jacobs: The loss of Calhoun’s happy hoops narrative, his legacy in peril | #tinder | #pof


When Jim Calhoun got out of his seat, walked slowly to the Microsoft Theater stage and made a stirring four-minute speech at the ESPYS in July, the response couldn’t have been warmer. He had won the “Best Coach” award, the biggest names in sports had risen for a standing ovation in Los Angeles, and there was the 77-year-old Calhoun speaking about his love for basketball and, more importantly, teaching, coaching, mentoring every day.

Social media immediately filled with tributes to his words, to his battle over cancer, to his fierce and storied career, to his decision to return to coaching at the Division III level. Calhoun still loves the gym. Calhoun still loves the kids. By his own admission, he is addicted to those loves and they were deep and wide enough to span three national championships at UConn to a small Catholic college in West Hartford.

The University of Saint Joseph was a winner, a big winner that July night.

Only three months later, the school finds itself facing a sexual discrimination lawsuit in which former associate athletics director Jaclyn Piscitelli alleges Calhoun helped turn the athletic department into a “boys club” and a hostile and demeaning work environment. Some of the things Piscitelli accuses Calhoun and associate coach Glen Miller of saying are indecorous. Some are intolerable in the workplace.

Intolerable enough to put St. Joseph, with a woman president and a woman as the new athletic director, in a most difficult position.

Granted we have heard one side of the story, yet intolerable enough to darken the legacy of Calhoun’s romantic return to basketball.

Mixed in with the legalities of the Title IX suit in U.S. District Court is the court of public opinion. Piscitelli is represented by Jacques Parenteau and the same New London law firm representing Kevin Ollie in the lawsuit against UConn for dismissing him as coach. Ollie is also suing Miller, his former assistant, for defamation and has filed a complaint for racial discrimination against UConn for disparate treatment compared to Calhoun during his 26-year UConn tenure. It is the ugliest family feud in UConn history.

There are several other law firms that could have been retained, yet Piscitelli hired this one? Coincidence? Or not? The conjecture certainly adds to the drama. Yes, the ugliest family feud in UConn history has spilled across the Connecticut River to St. Joseph.

Founded in 1932 by the Sisters of Mercy, the school has educated and empowered young women for nearly a century. One of them is my daughter, who received a master’s degree in 2018. Facing declining enrollment and a challenging future, St. Joseph decided to admit men as undergraduates for the 2018-2019 academic year. Men’s sports teams were added. Calhoun, to much fanfare, became basketball coach. The dynamic of the campus was sure to change and it did. It is easy to see how everyone might not have embraced the change.

The “Calhoun Effect,” as president Rhona Free has called it, was profound. Admissions by going co-ed were way up, including a substantial increase in women. Calhoun brought grand attention to the school, almost all of it to this point good. He led a team of freshmen to the GNAC championship game and one win short of the NCAA Tournament. ESPN did a four-part documentary series.

Sure, Calhoun still yelled. Sure, he still screamed. If you were going to accept the caring mentor, you also had to accept the cursing bully. After tangling with him more than once over 25 years, I thought I had seen it all with James A. Calhoun. I was not prepared to read some of what I did in the lawsuit, specifically the overt sexist statements.

Calhoun allegedly knocked several single-serve coffee K-cups to the floor and stepped on them, creating a mess of grinds and packaging all over the floor. According to the lawsuit, Calhoun made Piscitelli clean up the mess, saying if he had made such a mess at home his wife would clean it up for him. Bill Cardarelli, the former AD who brought Calhoun to St. Joe’s, allegedly witnessed the incident and told Piscitelli that he found the situation amusing and didn’t see anything wrong with Calhoun’s behavior.

If those accusations are true, no way Free and new athletic director Amanda Devitt can let this go without strong punishment.

It is unclear if Calhoun knocked over the cups and stepped on the grinds in anger and then bullied Piscitelli? Or it was an accident and he stupidly said what he did about his wife. As an associate athletic director why would Piscitelli be ordered to clean up the mess? The answers would help us understand some context. Calhoun’s wife Pat is a strong woman. I see her telling Jim to pick up the grinds himself if he ordered her to clean up the mess. I know my daughter, the St. Joseph graduate, would if I did.

According to the lawsuit, Calhoun called Piscitelli into the office to complain about Mary Cooper, the other woman who worked in the athletic department. Calhoun allegedly twice referred to Cooper as a “bitch” and said, “when Mary asks me what to do with work I hand her, I want to tell her to ‘shove it up her (expletive).’ ”


The lawsuit alleges that Calhoun repeatedly had Piscitelli open his office door for him even when he had keys in his hand — without so much as a hello. Calhoun is a little shaky these days. Could I see him with a coffee in one hand and keys another needing help? Yes.

The lawsuit alleges Calhoun said to Piscitelli, “You’re certainly hot.” Could I see Calhoun, sitting around with five guys, saying this? Yes. I’d say the same for 75 percent of males. Calhoun saying it directly to Piscitelli? Surprised me.

That certainly doesn’t mean these things didn’t happen. Any moral and responsible person, given the past few years, would certainly give a woman in such situations the benefit of the doubt. Conversely, there are going to be people who say Piscitelli got fired in June (the lawsuit said without a reason) and is doing this for the money.

An historically women’s school not standing up for a woman? Because of money? For the glory of basketball? Or because it doesn’t believe Piscitelli? That’s why St. Joseph, which is being sued, is in such a difficult position.

Piscitelli painted a dismal picture of a male-dominated department after Calhoun and Miller arrived. She said the work environment grew openly hostile and disdainful toward women. She alleged male co-workers went to play golf during the day, while she remained in the office. She said she was forced to share her office with two men, lost the privacy of that NCAA compliance calls requires and that Cardarelli told her to go into the locker room for the calls. She said sports information director Josh Ingram got an assistant, an intern and graduate assistant to help him while she received no help. Yet she still was required to do much of Cardarelli’s work. Ingram was hired to replace Piscitelli over the summer.

On top of this, she accused Miller of inappropriate remarks including criticizing her for not smiling enough. “I’d swipe left, too,” Miller allegedly told Piscitelli, referring to the Tinder dating app where left means rejecting further contact while right means interest. Swipe left. Odd thing for a 56-year-old married man to say. I had no idea what the heck it meant. The lawsuit also alleges that after a department meeting, Miller said to Piscitelli, “You’re feisty, I like it,” suggesting it turned him on sexually, and that Miller put his fists up playfully and said, “Do you want to fight me?”

In the lawsuit, Cardarelli comes off lazy, uncaring and unwilling to discipline his department.

Miller comes off as pervy.

Calhoun comes off as a sexist bully.

Free and St. Joseph, with a sudden loss of a romantic hoops narrative, are left to sift through the alleged facts and their conscience to decide if they are employing entitled sexists. A federal court will decide if there are Title IX violations.; @jefjacobs123

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