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.
Lori Kulo-Mathieu was a junior when Auriemma was hired to replace Jean Balthaser following a 9-18 season in 1984-85. Kulo-Mathieu said the final days of Balthaser’s run were stressful; no one seemed to be enjoying themselves. So when Auriemma showed up, the players were relieved to have a new coach. But this new coach had his own way of doing things:
“I remember the first game we played for him at Iona [Nov. 23, 1985]. It was a very close game,” Kulo-Mathieu said. “I remember vividly being down by one point. He [Auriemma] sets up a play. The play runs and I end up hitting a shot from the baseline.
“But I didn’t really follow the play he called. I probably was in the spot I felt I needed to be to hit the shot – just not the one he wanted me to go. We ended up winning the game, but I remember him being upset with me after the game because I didn’t follow his instruction.
That describes the two years I played for him. He was such a perfectionist and he wanted that from his players. If you didn’t follow what he wanted, that wasn’t good enough. … He was very precise in his coaching; how you moved your feet, where you put your feet, how you moved, even how you looked at the ball. He was all about precise technique; footwork and positioning.
“He inherited us and he often gave us a difficult time for not doing things the way he wanted them done. He was tough-minded. He demanded focus all the time. He wanted you to do it his way. He wanted to control everything that was going in, which wasn’t exactly the way things were with the coach we had before him [Jean Balthaser]. They were so different. We had a lot of adjusting to do. It was like a tornado hit us, but in a very good way.”