Geno Auriemma shakes his head or laughs when he’s asked if one of his players on the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team is tired.
“Did you ever get tired when you were their age?” is Auriemma’s stock answer.
Maybe 21-year-old players don’t get tired. But what about a 58-year-old coach?
From 2009 to earlier this year, Auriemma served as the United States national team coach, guiding Team USA to gold in the 2010 world championships and the 2012 Olympic Games in London. In those three years, he also coached 115 games at UConn.
He may deserve a break but he is not going to get one with the Huskies’ season opener coming up Sunday against College of Charleston at Gampel Pavilion.
“I think for me obviously there are some residual effects from four years of coaching around the clock,” Auriemma said. “That’s obvious. But I think that I’m like anyone else. Once I get into my routine, once I get into what I need to do and how I need to do it, I’ll be good. My staff is tremendous when it comes to that stuff. So I have a great outlook right now. I feel really good.”
Auriemma enters his 28th season at UConn with a record of 804-129. His success made him a first-ballot selection for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Last summer, he became the first active college coach since Stanford University’s Tara VanDerveer in 1996 to guide the U.S. Olympic Team. But VanDerveer took the preceding season with the Cardinal off to work with the national team. Auriemma seemingly went right from the Final Four in Denver, to the Olympics, then right back to UConn for the new season.
“I think you can get burnt out,” Auriemma said. “There were times when I got home it was difficult and it was difficult when I was over there in London because of the pressure you put on yourself. The demands you put on yourself are unrealistic.
“I’m concerned about it a lot. I try to make sure I’m not in too many places at too many times mentally. I’m pretty much right here. My mind is on how the team can get better, how the players can get better, and how to get ready for the season. But when I do get the opportunity, I step away from it.”
When Auriemma feels that one of his players his wearing down or tired, he may tell her to take a “mental health day.”
If he was just the coach, he could probably do that. But he’s also a father, grandfather, husband, and businessman as well as having duties off the court for UConn.
A recent free day was spent flying back and forth from Philadelphia for a funeral.
“For me, every day it’s something,” Auriemma said. “When you’re a player I can tell them, ‘Look, you’re not practicing today Don’t even come to the gym.’ And that’s it. It’s easy. For me, that’s hard to do.
“That’s not going to happen. No. I might come in the office a little bit later in the morning when we have practice at like 2:30 instead of feeling like I need to be here at 8. It will be subtle things. But there’s something every day. It’s non-stop.”
But he doesn’t see that as a bad thing.
“This past September 15 to October 15 was the first time in four years I’d been home in Connecticut and it was really good,” he said. “I’m not a down-time kind of guy. I’m good at doing nothing. But if I do nothing for awhile that’s all I want to do.”
For now, it’s back to work with the Huskies, who are ranked second in the national polls to defending NCAA champion Baylor. If UConn reaches the Big East Tournament and NCAA finals, it will play 39 games. The 2013 national championship will be decided on April 9 in New Orleans.
If you think Auriemma would trade what he’s done the past four years with Team USA for some extra rest, think again.
“It was an experience that anybody would die to have. It can never be replaced,” he said. “It’s been tough and I knew that’s how it would be when I took the Olympic job and I don’t think it hurt us at Connecticut in those years. At the same time, I’m looking forward to next spring, next summer, and not having anywhere to go or anything to do.”