On Feb. 22 at Houston, Geno Auriemma will coach his 1,000th game at UConn. To commemorate the occasion, the Hartford Courant will periodically feature a vignette from someone involved in his career to highlight the occasion.
Today’s installment features Geno talking about his first game as coach, at Iona on Nov. 23, 1985.
“That first game was pretty indicative of most first games [of a season] since I came here, but a little more so. You don’t know what you are good at, what your team can or can not do. You assume the worst,” Auriemma said. “I remember all the practices leading up to the first game were very detail-orientated, trying to cover every single solitary thing. You’re never sure when you reach the first game whether you’ve covered everything well enough to win.
“You are always worried. I was worried. I didn’t know if we’d covered it all, whether I’d instilled what I wanted to in them. I didn’t know if we would play hard, if the team would be reflective of what I wanted it to be like. I didn’t know if it had learned that it [the process] was going to be different than it had been every other year. There were a lot of things going on that didn’t involve Iona.
“I don’t remember the score [UConn won, 73-67] but I remember it being an emotional game. You open on the road as a first-year coach. It’s not like it’s just your first year at that school; it’s your first year coaching anywhere.”
Geno picked up two technical fouls in the game. In those days, you needed three to be ejected.
“You don’t know what the parameters are, what the boundaries are. Its evident when you first become a coach that you [think you] control everything; the offense, defense, timeouts, crowd, scorekeeper and the officials. Or at least you try to. And then you realize quite quickly that you don’t.
I was like a kid who just got his driver’s license. The cop stopped me twice. Peggy [Walsh-Myers, his star player] got a technical, so maybe that’s why I got mine. Maybe I was protecting her. I’m sure she said something to the official, but I don’t remember if mine came first or her’s.
“When we won our first seven games I thought of two things. One, I figured we weren’t as good as we looked, so let’s not get carried away because reality was going to hit as soon as we got into the league because they had never gone through anything like that.
“I was happy for them. I could see they enjoyed the difference. But I was crossing my fingers hoping when reality hit we didn’t fall apart. I knew it would be hard and I didn’t want to get a false sense [of security].
Auriemma was right. UConn was 5-15 down the stretch and finished 4-12 in the Big East.