fb-pixel Skip to main content
college basketball

Bill Coen tied Jim Calhoun at Northeastern, but insists he is no equal

Bill Coen's understated approach will soon have him ranking No. 1 by himself in men's basketball wins at Northeastern.
Bill Coen's understated approach will soon have him ranking No. 1 by himself in men's basketball wins at Northeastern.Daniel Lin/The Daily News-Record via AP

They couldn’t be more different. There’s the irascible and demanding Jim Calhoun, and there’s the quiet and thoughtful Bill Coen.

Despite the different personalities, what they share is success. Calhoun, of course, is a Basketball Hall of Famer who won three national championships at Connecticut and until this past weekend was the winningest coach in Northeastern history. Coen equaled him by recording his 250th victory with the Huskies, a 76-67 win over Towson Saturday.

“I won’t dare compare myself to Jim Calhoun,” said Coen. “He’s a Hall of Fame coach. I think he’s top five all-time in Division 1 wins. He’s sent multiple first-round picks to the league. He’s won national championships.”

Advertisement



Still, Coen is Calhoun’s equal in Northeastern victories.

“That number may be by my name,” said Coen, “but it’s owned by everybody who has come through this program.”

Calhoun’s record at Northeastern was 250-137, while Coen is 250-220. There were three head-to-head meetings between them, and Calhoun’s UConn team won all three, although two came by a total of 3 points.

They achieved their victories with different approaches — Calhoun in a hard-driving, overheated fashion, and Coen with an understated, encouraging, positive approach.

“He’s a lot more fiery than me, but you have to coach to your personality,” said Coen. “If you’re going to be successful in this business, you have to be authentic to your players.

“All of us have strengths, all of us have weaknesses, all of us have blind spots. You have to stay with what you’re good at.”

Coen says Calhoun has always been supportive.

Northeastern head coach Bill Coen hit a big milestone this month.
Northeastern head coach Bill Coen hit a big milestone this month.Winslow Townson

“When I got the job, he was one of the first guys to reach out,” said Coen. “He’s come back to the program because he has a fondness for Northeastern, where his career started.

“He’s been so supportive of me, willing to talk to our team, engage with former players he’s coached, and continuing to be a part of Northeastern basketball history. I’m extremely grateful for that.”

Advertisement



Coen couldn’t be too satisfied with his achievement, because his team split the weekend series with Towson, losing Sunday, 68-57, after coming off a COVID-19 pause and only two live practices.

“I’ve given up expecting anything but the unexpected,” said Coen. “It’s the nature of the COVID pause. First, there’s a period where you do nothing. Then there’s a phase-back-in approach, which is wise, before you have full practices, but it’s difficult to maintain any kind of consistency.

“You want to play your best basketball toward the end of the season, but you almost have the perpetual preseason adjustments.”

Sunday’s loss allowed James Madison to take over first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, although the Huskies are still a threat to win it. Unfortunately, their two-game set against UNC Wilmington scheduled for this weekend has already been postponed. Coen is not sure the Huskies will find another opponent, which means only two games would remain in the regular season, a set at William & Mary Feb. 27-28.

“It’s tricky,” said Coen. “You’re getting close to conference tournament time. You don’t want to overexpose your team to the virus and miss the conference tournament, your only way to the NCAA Tournament.

“You have to consider all and any possibilities and weigh the risks. The last thing you want is for someone to test positive and you miss the conference tournament.”

Advertisement



The CAA tournament is scheduled for March 6-9 at James Madison.

▪ Unexplained phenomena: Boston University had quite a weekend, losing to Holy Cross, 82-65, Saturday and then manhandling the Crusaders, 86-68, Sunday. Difficult to explain unless you want to chalk it up to coming off another pause.

“We were not in a good place [Saturday],” said coach Joe Jones. “It was like starting over. We got frustrated because things weren’t easy. [Sunday] we played hard and shared the ball. We know we’re better than how we played.”

Ever-positive, Jones feels he has the talent to succeed in the Patriot League tournament.

Joe Gallo's team is on a roll.
Joe Gallo's team is on a roll.Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

▪ Merrimack’s future: The quiet confidence of Warriors coach Joe Gallo is impressive. He felt he had a good team, and now it’s on a four-game winning streak and in first place in the Northeast Conference with a huge two-game set against Bryant, the league’s preseason favorite, this weekend. Unlike most two-game sets, each team will get a home game.

▪ Some positive thoughts: The Horizon League did a great thing by honoring John McLendon this weekend, putting a logo with his name on all the courts. McLendon coached at Cleveland State, where he was the first Black coach at a white majority college. His greatest success was at Tennessee State (it was called Tennessee A&I then), where he won three consecutive NAIA national championships. He is acknowledged as a pioneer of full-court, fast-break basketball but is also one of the most underappreciated coaches … I’ve adopted Coppin State as my MEAC team. The Eagles are coached by former Maryland star Juan Dixon, and he might be building something. I especially like the old-fashioned, stylish blue uniforms they wore on ESPNU last Monday. You might see them in the First Four.

Advertisement



▪ Some negative thoughts: Maine opted out of the remainder of its season, having not played or practiced since Jan. 17. It will not be the last school to do this … The NCAA Tournament Committee released its early top 16 seeds Saturday. No argument with the top four, but there will be plenty of changes before Selection Sunday. Four of the 16 lost Saturday. Two (Tennessee and Missouri) are heading the wrong way … I guess I deserve to be criticized, too, for calling Creighton overrated. The Bluejays crushed Villanova Saturday, with Marcus Zegarowski finally playing up to his potential with a season-high 25 points. If he plays like that, the Bluejays could be a force … Truly a shame that Drake, which won its first 18 games and briefly cracked the Top 25, lost its leading scorer, ShanQuan Hemphill, with a broken foot. He’s probably out for the season, although the Ring Dings are holding out hope he’ll return for a possible NCAA Tournament game.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at josephsullivan1974@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan