RIO DE JANEIRO — It’s not that winning has become boring for Team USA coach Geno Auriemma. It’s still a real pleasure and a thrill for him to crush an opponent, regardless of how big of a favorite his team is.
The United States women’s basketball team breezed through the Olympic tournament, winning its gold-medal game, 101-72, against overmatched Spain on Saturday at Carioca Arena, the Americans’ sixth consecutive gold medal in the sport.
It’s Auriemma’s second consecutive gold medal in addition to the 11 national championships he has won at the University of Connecticut. The 62-year-old coach has accomplished everything possible on the women’s basketball level; five of his Olympians came from UConn. His all-time college winning percentage is .877 and Team USA has yet to lose since he was named coach in 2010.
So what now for Geno? His plan is to go back to UConn and lead the Huskies to a fifth consecutive national title and he claims his 2016-17 squad will struggle to reach that pinnacle. So there’s another challenge, right?
“I wouldn’t trade all the winning for anything in the world, obviously,” Auriemma said. “You do have to keep somewhat reinventing yourself. You don’t ever want to just roll in there and say, ‘Well, this is what we’ve done and it’s been good enough, so let’s keep doing it this way.’ You’re always trying to stay current and stay above the competition because the more you win, the harder they work.”
That’s pretty much all Auriemma has to conquer, unless he decides it’s time for a new job. Could Geno Auriemma coach men? Could he coach in the NBA? And would he be open to that ultimate challenge?
Auriemma is not against the idea. In fact, he’s open-minded but there has not been interest from the professional side, which is interesting.
“Everybody asks me that and a lot of people that I know say, ‘I wish I had it like you,’ ” Auriemma said. “For instance in college, you get to coach your players for four years. You get to the NBA and it’s a different set of problems, it’s a different set of issues. So yeah, I think the [ultimate] challenge for any college coach is coaching the best players in the world. I’m sure all of us would love to put ourselves in that situation.
“Whether that’s ever in my future, I don’t know.”
When asked if he would reject NBA overtures, Auriemma said: “I don’t think anybody would. But we’ve won a lot of championships at Connecticut. And we’ve won a lot of world championships and gold medals and I’ve been the national team coach, and that phone hasn’t rung yet. So I don’t anticipate that it will.”
It’s surprising that Auriemma has never even received a call from an NBA team. He obviously is a coaching legend, having helped many players get to the WNBA and become all-time greats. The NBA has become more open to hiring coaches who did not play in the league or had just college coaching experience, such as the Celtics’ Brad Stevens.
Is the lack of interest because Auriemma coaches women? Is there a perception Auriemma would struggle to gain respect coaching professional men? It’s interesting and rather disturbing that none of the all-time great women’s coaches have been approached about being a head coach in the NBA.
Auriemma came to Rio two weeks ago screaming the narrative that the US women’s basketball team does not get enough respect because of its dominance. Team USA has become UConn. There is almost an assumption that every win will be by 30 points. The Americans’ dominance has become boring, commonplace, anticipated.
“Coaching the US national team is a challenge because I don’t coach this team every day, I don’t live in their world,” Auriemma said. “I get to see them on a very limited basis and I’ve got to hope that they trust me. I have been very fortunate to coach some of the most iconic players in the game, so the biggest challenge is next year, we don’t have [those UConn] greats next year or the year after that.
“I don’t see anybody coming along that’s at that level, so all those people saying, ‘Now we’ll find out if he can coach or not.’ They’re going to get their wish come true the next couple of years.”
The abundance of winning by Team USA and Auriemma has been taken for granted and credit is due for both parties. It’s naive to assume Auriemma’s style would only work with women and he’s right: He has become a victim of his own success.
So until another challenge comes along, Auriemma will have to keep generating obstacles. While the journey is never boring, it seems he would be open to something different.