He is an anomaly, a contradiction of sorts in our “grass is always greener elsewhere” world of sports today. As others seek validation in a bigger paycheck, a different location or a more prestigious position, he has remained true to the ultimate bottom line: winning championships. When it comes to that, no one has been more successful than the University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Mr. Luigi “Geno” Auriemma.
In capturing his 10th national title with the Huskies this year, and surpassing the 900-win mark in the process, Auriemma further cemented his spot among the true greats of his profession and proved immeasurably deserving of the United States Sports Academy’s 2015 Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award.
The award is presented annually to a coach who has experienced outstanding achievement and has exhibited a high standard of propriety, imagination, and innovation as a character-builder in the tradition of great teacher-coaches. Amos Alonzo Stagg is one of the winningest college football coaches in history with 314 wins and his imagination and innovation established many sports traditions, strategies and character-building lessons still used today.
Auriemma’s determination and demand of excellence from himself, his staff and his players drove the Huskies to their third straight NCAA Division I Women’s Championship, beating Notre Dame, 63-53, in the final April 7 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. If not for an early-season, overtime loss at No. 6 Stanford, UConn would have had its second straight perfect season. As it turned out, Auriemma’s troops finished 38-1 and were about as dominant as any team at any level could be, ranking No. 1 in the country in scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, field-goal percentage, opponent field-goal percentage, three-point shooting percentage, assists and blocked shots.
Obviously, Auriemma is blessed to have blue-chip talent year after year on his roster. Breanna Stewart, in fact, was named the Outstanding Player of the Final Four a third straight year following the Huskies’ victory against the Irish. But the reason for that is what Auriemma has done with the program since taking over 30 years ago. When he arrived in 1985 at Storrs, Conn., the Huskies had posted just one winning season in their history. In the 30 years since, they’ve have 29.
Auriemma’s initial campaign at UConn yielded the only losing one he’s had at the school. His Huskies have made the NCAA tournament each of the last 27 seasons, with only one of those teams having posted less than 20 victories. In 20 of those seasons, his teams have won at least 30 games. Five of his teams have been undefeated and four of them have incurred just a single setback. Sixteen times the Huskies have reached the Final Four under his tutelage.
At this point, his career record stands at a mind-boggling 917-134 (.872 winning percentage), and that doesn’t include the gold medals he has won as head coach of the 2000 and 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team or the FIBA World Championships he won while directing the 2010 and 2014 U.S. national teams.
A native of Montella, Italy, Auriemma migrated with his family to the suburban Philadelphia town of Norristown, Pa., when he was seven. He graduated from West Chester University and shortly after began his coaching career at Saint Joseph’s University in 1978-79. Ultimately, he caught the eye of UConn officials while serving as an assistant at the University of Virginia from 1981 through 1985.
Once hired by UConn, he never looked back, or around, because he made his own pasture the most green of all. It is no wonder he is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame … and now the 2015 Amos Alonzo Stagg Award winner.
The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission Sports University created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy visit www.ussa.edu.