ccDaily > 8 national championships comprise only a part of Auriemma's life

8 national championships comprise only a part of Auriemma's life

Geno Auriemma

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series profiling winners of the 2014 Outstanding Alumni Awards, which will be presented April 8 at the annual American Association of Community Colleges convention in Washington, D.C.

When you see a person on TV or read about him as often as you do with the University of Connecticut (UConn) women’s basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, you feel like you know him.

For instance, you know that he took the UConn Huskies from a program with only one win in 1985 to a team that has won eight national championships, 13 Final Fours and 18 Big East Tournament titles.

You might know that Auriemma was inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, or that he was asked to serve as the USA Basketball Women’s National Team head coach for a second four-year term, culminating with the 2016 Olympics.

If you follow women’s basketball, you may be aware that he led the USA, which included six former Huskies, to an 8-0 record and to the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

But here’s what you don’t know: For Auriemma, coaching isn’t really about winning games or finding talented players to recruit — it’s the relationships that matter.

“The longer you coach, the more you realize that it is about the people,” he says. “Sometimes we get caught up in thinking about a school’s facilities or number of championships, but at the end of the day, you realize that when people make decisions of where to play, the majority of the time it’s based on who they want to play for and who they want to play with.”

Auriemma believes recruiting should be about what kind of students you want in your program and not just about choosing the top 10 players.

“We need to ask ourselves which families understand what we’re trying to do, because so much of coaching is about people,” he says.

Find what stirs your soul

Auriemma didn’t always know that he wanted to be a coach; as a result, he understands what it’s like to be graduating from high school and unsure of your next step. He thinks today’s high school graduates should do the things they enjoy and see where that takes them.

“I went to Montgomery County Community College [Pennsylvania] because that’s where my friends were going and I thought it would be a great place to play basketball with my buddies,” Auriemma says. “I was afraid of going to a four-year school because I didn’t know if I could compete at that level, but the most important thing to do at college is to work really hard to find something you’re passionate about.”

Auriemma believes today’s college students need to get a well-rounded education and participate in a bunch of activities to figure out what stirs their souls. As he says, “Don’t be so caught up in what’s next — jobs and career opportunities change rapidly. Use the time to figure out what you love and see where that takes you. Once you graduate and start interviewing, the people you meet will see that you’re a passionate person who is worth hiring.”

Keeping a balance in life

Auriemma has had unparalleled success at coaching, but he is fully aware that life is about more than work and basketball. He’s also a restaurateur, an author, a philanthropist, a husband, a father and a grandfather.

“I’ve never been a 24/7/365 coach; that’s not who I am,” he says. “When I do my job, I do it as well as I can. But when I’m not at work, I get as far away as I can.”

Some of the ways he likes to escape are watching movies at home or leaving the office early to hit a few golf balls.

“I need to find time to do the things I enjoy because when I go back to my job I’m a little bit fresher and able to handle all the things that come with it instead of being burned out,” he says.

Remembering the moments

Auriemma looks back fondly on his days at Montgomery County Community College, which he attended from 1972-1975. While there, he played on the basketball and tennis teams.

“Some of the most memorable things about Montgomery were the English classes taught by Jerry Annunziato,” he says. “I always enjoyed reading and literature, and he had a way of teaching English lit that made me feel like it wasn’t goofy to like that stuff.”

He met his future wife, Kathy, and made very good friends at college.

“I stayed in touch for a long time with a lot of my Montgomery professors. Being on campus and going to classes was a huge part of the experience, but I also really valued the time hanging out in the student union, waiting for class and playing cards,” he says. “You don’t always remember the score of a game or the way you played, but you do remember the moments. I don’t remember every class or instructor’s name, but I remember the moments I spent with people. For me, it was perfect.”