Pat Summitt’s new book, “Sum It Up” written by longtime friend Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, hits the bookstores on March 5, right smack in the middle of Big East Tournament time.
It is a book about her life, her career, her triumphs and failures, her future, her friends and her rivals.
Within the book are six pages devoted to her relationship with Geno Auriemma. While not voluminous or particularly antagonist, Summitt offers interesting revelations about her friendship with Geno – what made it good and what turned it sour.
And what turned it sour, as you will see, is what caused her to end the series with UConn prior to Maya Moore’s arrival.
Courant sports editor Jeff Otterbein reviewed an advance copy of the book and chronicles much of what Tennessee’s Hall of Fame coach said about Auriemma and UConn.
By JEFF OTTERBEIN
“When we got a fish tank in our offices at Tennessee and two of the fish tried to devour each other, I named them Pat and Geno. I’d walk into the office and check the tank and ask our secretaries cheerfully, ‘Did Pat eat Geno yet?’
From “Sum It Up,” Pat Summitt’s new book written with Sally Jenkins.
Yes, it was a complicated relationship over the years is what one takes away from the parts of the book that mention UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma
The former Tennessee women’s coach says she ended the series with UConn because she became “increasingly upset with a couple of UConn’s tactics in recruiting,” which she never elaborated on back then and did not in the book.
Summitt says she and Auriemma “have recovered our friendship — and I do regard it as friendship. … we are in the best place we’ve ever been.”
She says Auriemma “was a smart-ass who would take negative attention over no attention at all.”
Summitt says Geno “wrote a check on the spot — for $10,000” after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
To that end, she says she has felt “serious effects of the disease. Some days it’s as though my mind is buried in a cloud bank … There are places in these pages where friends had to take over the storytelling.”
The book, in stores in March, is 376 pages and about six are on Auriemma.
In the summer of 2006, Summitt says she made two important decisions about the quality of her life. She ended her marriage and she ended the UConn series.
That was the same year Tennessee asked the SEC to look into eight incidents it said violated 11 recruiting rules. Only a secondary violation was confirmed — UConn arranging Maya Moore’s tour of ESPN when she was visiting in 2005 — and that was self-reported by the Huskies.
“Believe it or not, it had almost nothing to do with the rivalry itself. The fact is, relationships between coaches are rarely ruined by what happens on the court — we all know what goes around comes around, and that’s an inherently humbling game. Relationships between coaches are ruined off the court. It’s what happens before and after, in the handshake line and most especially in recruiting, that poisons relationships. And that’s what happened to Geno and me.
“For the better part of 13 years, Geno and I got along well. Though we were competitive, we felt a bond, a shared sense that we elevated the game to a very rare air.”
Summitt writes that after her 1998 best-selling book, “Reach For The Summitt,” she came to Hartford for a book signing and Geno sent a huge bouquet of flowers with a funny note that said “Congratulations. I hope your next visit is not nearly as successful.”
She says they chatted at functions, thought alike on how to make the game better, shared contractual details to help the other get a raise, but for all of that, they had dinner just once.
“Perhaps we should have done more of that and gotten to know the sides that people closest to us saw: the good parent, the funny cocktail companion, the generous colleague who helped younger coaches get their starts and inspired loyalty in staffs. We knew those sides existed because people told us about them. But I’m not sure we ever met in the way we should have.”
And then things went downhill. She says Geno “always liked to make barbed remarks, but it seemed to me from 2000 on, they had an ungenerous edge.” She tells of an encounter in a restaurant where “he made me so uncomfortable by shouting my name derisively that I left the premises.”
She tells of getting a note after an upset loss to Xavier in what appeared to be Geno’s handwriting. The note said, “I predicted Tennessee would lose to Xavier, and I also predicted Pat would blame her team instead of herself.” She writes that she faxed it to Geno, asked what was up and never got a response.
Summitt writes that Geno felt “elbows from us, too. I learned later that he believed Al Brown was discourteous to him in the handshake line. And when UConn was upset by Notre Dame in the 2001 NCAA Final Four, some of our staff chanted, ungraciously, ‘Who let the dogs out,’ and apparently he heard it.”
They reached a truce for while, Pat saying that Geno leaned over to her during a pregame handshake before the 2004 NCAA championship game and said, “Listen. Don’t let anyone tell you I don’t respect you. I’ve always respected you.”
Summit writes “all of this should have been filed away as two coaches with competitive egos being thin-skinned. Instead it formed the backdrop for the hard feelings of what happened next. Recruiting is the most difficult part of the game, and no coach likes it. … I believed I had a special responsibility to follow the rules closely, because whatever a coach at the top of the game did, every other coach in the country was going to do twice as aggressively. Over the course of about a year, I became increasingly upset with a couple of UConn’s recruiting tactics. I didn’t itemize my complaints publicly then, and I’m not going to now. I went through the appropriate channels and that’s how it will stay. I made my concerns known to UConn through our athletic director, Joan Cronan, and the Southeastern Conference. UConn responded that they saw nothing wrong with what they were doing. I made my concerns known again. Same response.
“I was finished.”
Thus ended the series. The teams haven’t met in the regular season since Jan. 6, 2007.
The rivalry started in 1995 and Summitt writes of that NCAA Final Four.
“Our team motto that year was ‘One Team With One Goal.’ But we had One Problem: the University of Connecticut. They were a sky-rocketing, unbeaten team led by a willowy, elegant six-foot-four center named Rebecca Lobo with a smile as wide as a doorway and coached by a guy who was the first opponent I’d met who could match me for stormy intensity, Geno Auriemma. This was the inaugural year of a rivalry that, despite our quarrels over the coming years, we both agreed was an absolute masterpiece.”
Summitt writes of the different style of play between the teams and then the differences between her and Auriemma.
“I tried to be correct and courteous in public; Geno was a smart-ass who would take negative attention over no attention at all. You could put a microphone on me for an hour and never hear anything worse than ‘dadgummit;’ he was notoriously foulmouthed. I was intensely competitive but left it on the court; he was combative and carried grudges off the court. Then of course there was the most fundamental difference of all: gender. He complained about being a man in a women’s sport. To which I was always tempted to reply: ‘Try being a woman in a man’s world.’ ”
Summit goes on to write that they were a lot alike, too, both loved to laugh, both enjoyed a fine red wine, both taught the game with “unrelenting energy and attention to detail,” both loved their players.
For all that, the series would eventually end, and at the end of the section talking about that, Summitt writes that “in the years since, anger and suspicion have dissipated, replaced by the original bond. Shortly after I announced my diagnosis, a note came in the mail. It was from Geno, saying he’d heard I had health issues, and he was thinking about me. Shortly after I went public, I formed the Pat Summitt Foundation to fight Alzheimer’s, with the help of my friend Danielle Donahew, associate commissioner of the Big East Conference. Danielle asked Geno if he wanted to be the first contributor to it. He wrote out a check on the spot — for $10,000.”