I recently came across a statistic that astonished me, the head coach of a major division one college basketball team lead their team to victory for the 100th straight time. A record unmatched by any basketball team at any level, college (division one) or above. However, while jaw droppingly impressive this was not the statistic that astonished me most, no it was upon hearing that over this 100 game winning streak this particular head coach’s winning percentage went up a whopping one percent.
Now, if you are a sports fan, you hopefully know who I am referring to, and that is the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma. When Geno began this illustrious 100 game winning streak his record as a head coach was 880-134, now you can do the math, 100 wins and 0 losses later his record stood at 980-134, and if you do the math again (sorry), you will find that his winning percentage went up from .868 to .880, or 1.2% during this streak. Yes, I stretched the truth by .2%, but is it not equally as awe inspiring? Let’s put math aside though, because while it is fun to discuss, quantitatively, why Geno Auriemma is perhaps the greatest coach in modern sports history, it is more enjoyable to talk about the qualities that make him so legendary.
Let’s first set the stage by going back approximately two years and three months, to the last time UCONN lost, the date was November 17, 2014, and on this fateful day Stanford University squeaked out a two point win in overtime, shocking #1 UCONN. However, this one loss helps me segway into a far more impressive statistic. Which is, in their last 143 games UCONN’s record is 142-1. Allow me to put it this way, the UCONN Huskies women’s basketball team would be going on four straight undefeated seasons if not for one loss over two years ago.
Let’s briefly delve into the politics of this streak now, because a common theme throughout history is that those who are successful receive the most scrutiny, if for no other reason than they are so damn successful it hurts us mere mortals. I will start with an article I read the other day upon researching this historic winning streak UCONN is on. It stated essentially that the UCONN women’s basketball team played nobody “close” to their level of talent and therefore their streak is a sham. Going on to say that the level of talent UCONN plays against is comparable to “third graders”. I fully admit I had to will myself through the first few paragraphs, but could not stomach much more, so unfortunately I did not read the entirety of the article. However, from the bit I read the individual who authored this particular article must hate winning an awful lot, or maybe just winners (or maybe he’s just having a crappy day). The argument made was that UCONN went 2-1 in close games, or games decided by 10 points or less, during their streak and this tarnishes it. The first mistake is believing that a lack of close games is a bad thing, are we not smack in the middle of a widespread debate over participation trophies and “having fun is all the matters”, and how the younger generation of athletes are all coddled. Should UCONN be spotting teams games, or taking a few months off every year to allow other teams to get an advantage in recruiting, no the answer is that simple. Being the best is not about going easy on anyone, it is about dominating, also known as blowing teams out of the water on a nightly basis, which is exactly what UCONN does unapologetically.
Blowing teams out is good, scratch that, it is great and it is what winners do. The legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes was once quoted in response to being asked why his team attempted a 2 point conversion after scoring a touchdown to go up 50-14, as saying “Because they wouldn’t let me go for three!”. I believe, as someone who has never seen success as a head coach (or attempted to for that matter), that we should simply allow coaches to coach, especially the great ones. Because in the end you never see losers running up the score.
Okay, now allow me to methodically debunk the backwards argument that UCONN is “too good for their own good”. First off take a peek back at the preseason polls this year, the Huskies were ranked #3 to begin the season, and many experts believed this would be a drop off year for Geno and his squad. They lost some big time talent, notably the 2016 WNBA #1 overall draft pick Breanna Stewart, and they were working with a group of relative unknowns, well unknown to those not living in Storrs, Connecticut that is. Therefore to say that UCONN had an unfair advantage over the rest of the field is completely inaccurate, and is exactly why the coaching of Geno Auriemma is so impressive.
Now, a “drop off” in the eyes of a UCONN fan is maybe 2-3 losses, and a Final Four birth, but anything less than a championship has these spoiled fans crying themselves to sleep. Well I would say the tissues can be put away UCONN fans, because the Huskies have rolled so far this season, and not against cupcakes. They have beaten nine ranked teams so far, winning by an average of about 21 points (20.9 to be exact), their closest game being the first game of the season versus Florida State where they managed to win by just two. Their biggest blowout, which shocked most, came in the form of a 65 point win against the University of South Florida, the only team in their conference that was, at the beginning of the season, considered a threat to knock them off of their throne. As a glorified basketball nerd, as well as a fan, I can tell you that it does not matter the talent level or the skillset of the players, to beat a team by 65 points in basketball one needs to be methodical, efficient, and disciplined in all aspects of the game. All of these attributes must be instilled by the head coach.
Geno Auriemma has amassed nearly 1,000 victories and 11 National Titles since being named UCONN’s women’s basketball coach in 1985. When he started the UCONN women’s basketball program was only in their 12th year of existence, so of course Geno holds essentially every record in the entirety of their history in regards to coaching. For example he has been the head coach for 100% of their National Titles, and he is accountable for a mere 91% of the wins in their programs history. Now, women’s basketball at the division one level is relatively young, so of course this gaudy statistic should be taken with a grain of salt. To draw some comparison Duke’s men’s basketball team had already compiled over 1,000 wins by the time UCONN had implemented its basketball program in the mid 1970s. Still though, the numbers do not lie, Geno Auriemma is the ultimate winner, and his methods are impeccable. This is proven by his ability to win at all levels, attaining an overall record of 50-1 on the sidelines as either a head coach or assistant coach in official FIBA and FIBA Americas competitions (this includes the Olympics), bringing home a total of three Olympic gold medals.
All things considered Geno Auriemma is a legendary basketball coach, there is no doubt about that, his ability to consistently remain atop women’s college basketball year after year is remarkable. However, he transcends sports, Geno Auriemma helped put his program in the same breath as many of the storied men’s programs, such as Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. He continues to do this in an era where women’s sports are still dangerously far behind men’s sports. Women’s collegiate athletics are often looked at as a waste of money and resources to many major colleges, because few, if any, women’s athletic programs turn a profit. I suppose this reflects many “real world” issues, such as greed, inequality, and unfair representation. That is why what Geno has done, and continues to do is so transcending, he has turned down jobs to coach in the NBA, and for many major division one men’s programs, because he loves UCONN women’s basketball, and he loves his players, but most importantly he continues to remain loyal to the game of basketball, in a time where chasing dollar signs has become more important than chasing loose balls. This type of mentality needs to spread like wildfire, because unfair representation and greed is running rampant throughout the sporting community.
Allow me to clarify, by no means am I declaring this man a saint, and I understand how it may look pronouncing a man as the greatest coach in all of women’s sports, especially given the many great female coaches, rest in peace Pat Summitt. However, my point is not to look at men’s sports versus women’s sports and compare genders. My point is to say objectively that Geno Auriemma, in recent history, has seen the most success of any coach, at any level, man or woman, and he should be in a breathe of his own as the greatest head coach in modern American athletics, period.
Photo: (CBS Connecticut) (Nj.com)