Geno Auriemma coaches his 1,000th game at UConn on Feb. 22 at Houston. To commemorate the milestone, the Hartford Courant will occasionally publish a memory or remembrance of the Hall of Fame coach from someone who helped play a role in his journey.
On the weekend in 1985 that Auriemma came to interview for UConn’s open women basketball head coaching position, there were rumors going around that Tennessee assistant Nancy Darsch, who had also worked with Pat Summitt on the 1984 Olympic team, was being strongly considered for the job.
However, there was also some uncomfortable news: Word was, Darsch wanted too many of the “extra perks” she had at Tennessee, things that UConn knew it could never have provided at time.
Of course, as it turned out, it was UConn that would get the biggest perk in history.
“I never knew who the other applicants were until it was all said and done.” Auriemma said. “I didn’t come up [to UConn] knowing who had been there before or who was perceived as the favorite or the long shot. I didn’t know anything about anything, other than the job was open, because part of the business when you are an assistant, is knowing when head coaching jobs open up.
“Did I think I would get the job? I was under the impression that if I did a good job in the interview, I would get it. That is what you are supposed to think, isn’t it? I didn’t come up here knowing one way or another what they were looking for or how I needed to conduct myself; you know, make sure you don’t ask for this or that. I had no preconceptions. I just talked to people I trusted before I went there for some advice.
“I had interviewed for the DePaul job, the year before. I thought I was going to get that job and I didn’t. So, I just approached the interview as I would if I was on a recruiting trip. I was going to go up there like I was walking into a kid’s house or high school and convince them to play at Virginia [where he was an assistant]. I was going to sit down with [the selection committee] and recruit them to hire me.
“I don’t think the stakes were really high. I mean, if I was walking into a room right now interviewing for a NBA job, I might not be as calm, confident and sure of myself as I was that weekend. At that time, I was thinking, ‘Well, who do they think they are going to get?
“It was UConn, which had four straight losing seasons. They play in an intramural gym. They have an intramural program. Did they think some really good head coach from another part of the country would be dying for the job? So I wasn’t intimidated. I was calm. I knew no one else would be coming into the room to blow them away, so I didn’t have to be something I’m not, like convince them I was somehow worthy.
“They asked, ‘Well, what do you need to build a program? I said, ‘What are you talking about? Honest to God, I answered every question they had with a question. I told them, ‘I just want the job.’”
He got the job.