UConn coach never rests

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007

Geno Auriemma guided Connecticut's women's basketball program to four national titles in five years from 2000-04. He hasn't been to the Final Four since but has an experienced team that's off to a 6-0 start, ranked No. 2 and looking every bit like a team that should make it to Tampa for the Final Four in April.

He sat down with Times staff writer Greg Auman before the season started, chatting in his office after practice while eating a cup of clam chowder.

You're a baseball guy. Because you had such a run of championships and have fallen short the last few years, would it be appropriate to call you the New York Yankees of women's college basketball?

The parallels with the Yankees are absolutely on the money. We won five championships in 10 years, four in five years; with a little bit of luck with injuries, we could have won eight in 10 years. When you set that kind of standard, then the regular season, if you're not careful, becomes meaningless. Your conference tournament becomes meaningless. The NCAA Tournament becomes meaningless. The only thing that matters is, if you get to the Final Four, it's been a good year, you win the national championship, it's a great year. My job is to make sure the players understand there's a lot that goes into all that that can be a lot of fun.

If you play here at Connecticut, it's like playing for the Yankees. If you're bad, the whole country knows about it and you're exposed. But if you're really good, the whole country knows about it and you're celebrated more than you would be anywhere else.

You think Joe Torre should still be managing the Yankees. I'm sure you can relate to the high expectations and demands that come with sustained success.

We as coaches and managers get paid a lot of money for the success of our players. When our players are successful, the coach gets rewarded as a great coach, gets paid a lot of money and a lot of notoriety. ... The flip side is also true: You can manage and coach your brains out, do everything right, and a guy throws a bad pitch, guy hits a three-run homer. You put the right guy up in the right situation and he grounds into a double play. You're going to get all the scrutiny and all the blame. I think sometimes fans and media put way too much emphasis on the outcome.

That's easier to say when you have five national championships. Is a championship-or-bust mentality a good thing?

It is what it is. We live in a part of the world, in the Northeast, where that's the mentality. If we were out in the Midwest or down south somewhere, we might have more leeway. This is the northeast, man. It's New York, Boston, Philadelphia. It's now. Philadelphia is a perfect example. It made me laugh when Donovan McNabb said, "I'm under more scrutiny because I'm black." In Philadelphia, you can be Charles Manson, you throw a touchdown pass, they're going to build a statue for you. You throw an interception next time, they're going to cut your ...

What gives you optimism this might be a team that can get you back to the Final Four?

It's reminiscent of 1994. We lost in the Final Eight game, before we were really ready to win a national championship. We added a really good freshman that year in Nykesha Sales. I sense there might be a similar scenario; we lost in the Final Eight last year, have everybody back and we've added a really, really good freshman in Maya Moore.

You're starting to see more parity in women's college basketball, more teams rising up to challenge the perennial powers.

It's going to catch up to the rest of the country in terms of women's basketball. The intensity level, the scrutiny of the coaching staff and players. Coaches are getting paid more money, there's going to be more kind of an intense push. "Hey, we want to have a winning program." It's not good enough to say, "We have to have a program. Title IX says we have to have a team, so let's have a team. We're trying to win in men's basketball and football. We want to go to the Rose Bowl and the NCAA Tournament for men's basketball. Let's just have a nice team where the girls graduate and they say please and thank you after everything."

You're one of those perennial powers, so can you still be a fan of parity, in success spreading out to more teams that haven't won before?

I think the more teams that can beat you, the better. Better competition is always good. More fan interest is a direct result of how many people have a chance to win. If the World Series this year didn't have the Red Sox or the Yankees or the Cubs or somebody everybody in the country can identify with, is that good or bad? It's good in one level, because more teams are capable of winning. The Rockies are there. Tremendous. But we don't want them playing the Brewers. We want the Rockies playing one of the big guys. We want Goliath out there all the time, and we want somebody new taking a shot at them. That, to me, would be my ideal. As long as we're Goliath all the time.