On the court Geno assembles his Huskies. They stand there, surrounding him, 13 players, three coaches—16 women, most of them taller than he is, listening as he addresses them. Auriemma gives his orders and watches. Seldom is he pleased. On those rare occasions when he is, the dumbfounded associates refer to him as Mister Rogers. He passes quickly through that neighborhood. Sometimes he is caustic. Sometimes he sprinkles in barnyard words. His most scathing epithet, though, is "girlie-girlie."
Diana Taurasi says, "He'll pound away at you. There were times I hated to come to practice because it was so mentally demanding. He'd put you in situations where you couldn't win. But it's like he says: 'You're going to prove me right. Or prove me wrong.' And I'm always determined to prove him wrong. You see, you hate him in a way you need to."
Diana is forever intent, utterly engaged. Form three lines: layups, pull-up, cut off the high post. Rote stuff. Pass, then back to the end of the other line. Next time shoot, then back to.... But after Diana has taken part, when she goes into the next line, she shuffles backward. She doesn't want to miss her teammates even working a silly drill. Ms. Mona Lisa is always watching.
"Girls are dumb as rocks," Geno declares. "At basketball I mean. They don't play enough. I ask my players, 'How many days do you think a guitarist plays guitar? Every day. Well, basketball is your art. Do you talk the game every day, touch a ball every day?' D does. D's different. She plays all the time. So she's picked it up. I mean, how do you teach someone to stick her ass out when she goes up on a shot so she can draw a foul? D knows that. But most of 'em just don't play enough."
Implicit in all of this is the wistful belief that if Geno were coaching men, they'd all be as dedicated as Diana. And, of course, if he were coaching men, more people would take him seriously. He'd be a coach then, instead of what he is now: a coach on the women's side. Geno's trouble is that as much as the Huskies mean to him, he's always an outsider, the odd man out in a woman's game, an odd duck for not coaching men.
"I could do it with men for a while," he says. "For a while. It really isn't that different—what you're trying to do. But see, you try to teach a man something, he's much more inclined to view it as, Hey, what difference does it make? What difference does it make if I come off a screen and catch the ball exactly like you tell me to?
"I wonder too. I wonder if I were a men's coach, if I'd end up a p—— like most of 'em. How many drill sergeants, working with 18-, 19-, 20-year-old guys, don't end up p——s, at work, anyway? How can you help it? Have I been spared that? I think so. I don't have to be a p——. I can coach and still be sensitive. See, over here, the players listen to you, they actually want to please, they do what you want them to do. Men's coaches have never had a situation like this. No, this is the perfect place for me."
But certainly there is a part of him that aches some, that would like to be Coach Geno Auriemma, not Geno Auriemma, women's coach. He goes to clinics and listens to the masters, men who haven't achieved anything near what he has but who've done it on the men's side. "I'm in awe of old coaches," he admits, tenderly. I met Tex Winter. I just stared at him. Hubie Brown. Cotton Fitzsimmons. Johnny Bach. I could listen to them for hours. I love that. I'm playing golf with Jim Boeheim and I'm thinking, Gee, this is Jim Boeheim I'm playing golf with."
And part of it, he knows, is that very few of his male colleagues look back at him with that sort of admiration. If he hasn't been asked about this a lot, he certainly has thought about it a lot. Even for a guy with such a silk tongue, his answer is too perfectly framed by half. "Look," he says, "my wife thinks I do a good job. My players believe in me unquestionably. And my coaches. And I believe my administrators think I'm the best coach in the country. Then everybody else will tell you I just win 'cause I have good players. Ninety percent of the women coaches resent me because I'm a man. The other 10 percent appreciate what I do and are my good friends. Ninety percent of the men's coaches are jealous that I get all the attention I do for coaching women. The other 10 percent know me and give me a fair amount of credit."
Anyway, he'll be 50 on his next birthday, and he knows the cards have been dealt faceup. He must keep on winning with the women. "It's like that expression: A taste of honey is worse than none at all," he says. "I want more. I'm a perfectionist. Besides, I make an ungodly amount of money, so I'm supposed to win."