If there were a Mount Rushmore of coaches than Connecticut Women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma just earned himself a spot at the imaginary table of great coaches. Not just basketball coaches, all coaches. As in the Mount Rushmore of American sports coaches.
Auriemma just led his Connecticut team to their ninth national championship, making him the winningest coach in NCAA women’s basketball history, passing former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt with eight titles. Connecticut sealed the victory Tuesday night when they pasted Notre Dame 79-58 in what had been billed as the biggest game in NCAA women’s basketball history.
It was certainly the most hyped but obviously it was not the best. Give credit to Auriemma for that as his team went through the season undefeated for the fourth time in his career and defeated every team they played this season by at least 15 points. Some would point to the loss of power forward Natalie Achonwa from Notre Dame as the reason for the lopsided score but after watching the game it is hard to imagine one player making much of a difference for the Fighting Irish. Achonwa is one post up player. Connecticut has three of them in Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and and each of them is an All-American.
Add those three to a countless list of All-Americans Auriemma has produced and guided to 26 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, six straight Final Four appearances and four of the last six national championships. Hard to imagine after all this time but Auriemma’s program would seem to be ascending.
Even with that resume there is still a carrot hanging out there for the Husky coach as he begins his 30th season next fall at Connecticut. Auriemma is on the verge of tying the heretofore unquestioned greatest college basketball coach of all time, John Wooden. The Wizard of Westwood won ten national championships at UCLA that included seven in a row at one point. UCLA was the king of college basketball in the sixties early seventies because they had the best players, the best coach and won all the time.
Sound familiar? Auriemma has virtually replicated Wooden’s accomplishments or is about to. Both built insignificant programs in to the best of their era and beyond. No one in the history of the men’s or women’s game has accomplished what Wooden or Auriemma have but most fans would likely consider only Wooden for as a candidate for the Mount Rushmore of American sports coaches.
There are others that would warrant consideration as well. Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, Casey Stengel. They all built dynasties and their teams dominated their respective sports but they were all the unquestioned leaders of these teams. The coaches who got the most out of their talent and built teams and or programs of historical significance.
Wooden certainly belongs on that list and so now does Auriemma. The time is coming very soon for the Connecticut coach where this topic will be at the forefront of everything the Huskies do. When next year starts the narrative for Auriemma’s chase to Wooden starts as well and it will follow he and his team through every high and low they may experience next season and beyond.
In truth it will be there from now on for Geno Auriemma. As good as program is at the moment there is little reason to believe he will not catch John Wooden and pass him in the near future. That is pretty good company to keep for Auriemma. Mount Rushmore type company.
Commentary by Mick Varner