He got in under the wire. Nowadays a man would have no shot at a high-profile women's college basketball job. The sport is too visible for such an athletically incorrect move. Geno is the last dinosaur.
Of course, the antimale process is probably being speeded up because of Geno himself. "I'm quite sure that women don't like me as the face of women's basketball," he says, cat-with-canary, knowing very well that the declaration will ensure that women will like him even less. "A kid like D, a program like ours—it transcends the sport. It's bigger than the game. We've gotten too good for our own good." It's instructive that even though the Huskies won another championship last year as a long shot, the (mostly female) coaches' association voted Gail Goestenkors of Duke, who coached the beaten favorite, coach of the year.
In 1989, back at the beginning, Geno had led the Huskies to a Big East championship and into the NCAAs in only four years, but he didn't get a single other coaching inquiry. Why was that? He cocks an eye, checking to see who just fell off the turnip truck.
Because you're a man? "Yeah." But then, as a gentleman of intuition who does not fear telling the truth, Geno amplified that. "Also, I guess I rub some people the wrong way."
The classic example of the difference between how males and females respond to coaching is, If a coach tells a women's team that some players aren't doing the job, every player will duck her head and think the coach is singling her out. If a coach tells a men's team the same thing, every guy will think, At least he doesn't mean me. "If my players think I like 'em, then I can say and do whatever I want," Geno says. "You've got to be careful how you phrase it, how you approach it. The difference with women is, they can't see that when you criticize something they did, you're not down on them personally."
Nevertheless, he can be a fierce taskmaster. He has always been especially hard on his best players, Diana most prominently included. The only All-America he eased up on was Nykesha Sales, whom the other coaches facetiously called Precious for getting off so lightly. But even Sales once spent a whole week so mad at Geno that she wouldn't talk to him. Lobo can remember the whole team getting so angry at Geno that Jen Rizzotti would call everybody together and say, " 'Screw him. Let's just do this for ourselves.' Which, of course, was exactly what Geno wanted."
Lobo's mother had cancer her junior year. "Geno never let up on her, though," Rizzotti says. "Never. He'd call her 'the dumbest smart player I ever saw.' He was brutal."
"But the thing is, Geno couldn't do enough for me off the court," Lobo says. "He was always there when I needed him."
It is this dichotomy that befuddles so many of Geno's female competitors in the game. Why do his players—always "my guys"—put up with this smug, curly-haired little Philly smoothie who can be so sarcastic and rude and man-mouthed? What's the matter with these girls? Meg Pattyson, who played for him and then served as one of his assistants, tries to explain: "He's the kind of man I could tell, 'I got my period, I got cramps, I'm all bloated.' Or, 'My boyfriend's acting like a jerk.' You could talk to Geno about anything. How many men can you do that with?"
In '91 Pattyson was a stalwart on the first UConn team to get to the Final Four. The team was slow, but it had some shooters, so Geno just had them jack up threes. That was pretty revolutionary stuff in women's basketball at the time. With only a few seconds left, against Clemson, Pattyson botched a pass, and the Lady Tigers scored. Geno screamed for a timeout. It was tire first time a Huskies game had ever been televised, and with the camera right in his face he yelled, "Meg, what the f—- are you doing?" You didn't have to be much of a lip-reader to get it.