‘You have to get the right people’ UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma shares how he’s created successful impact

SOUTHINGTON — For the first time in three years, UConn’s Coaches Road Show is back in person.

Women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma — along with men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley, football’s Jim Mora, baseball’s Jim Penders and softball’s Laura Valentino — mixed and mingled with fans and alumni Monday night at Kinsmen Brewing Company.

Auriemma, dressed casually in a light blue button-up, jeans and black and white Nikes, took pictures with fans, met with media, drank beer and participated in a panel with the other coaches on stage in front of the 200-plus crowd.

“You never get a chance to interact with fans, it’s been so hard at the games and anywhere else. You look around all over the country, fans have lost their minds,” Auriemma said. “So it’s nice to be in a situation where you can just, ‘How are you guys doing? How’s everything? Here’s what’s going on with our team.’ It’s just laid-back and it’s fun. It’s one of those things where I think coaches enjoy going.”

The coaches spoke to the crowd about various topics, including what makes a successful program.

To Auriemma, success starts with finding the right people. The right people to hire the right coaches and the right players to play for those coaches.

“That’s a lot harder than you think it is,” Auriemma said. “It’s not as easy as, ‘Hey go to UConn, come play for us.’ It doesn’t work that way. It’s really hard. Let’s say you start with 100 kids, ninth-graders, by the time they get to be seniors, 10 of them can play for you ... and everybody in America wants those same 10. And I mean, why would a kid go to Stanford instead of UConn? What the hell do they have that we don’t have? You’re recruiting against some really, really tough schools so you have to get the right kids.”

While the Huskies lost three seniors to graduation last month, the team gained Fairfield grad transfer Lou Lopez Senechal. Along with UConn’s two incoming freshmen, both of which are forwards, Lopez Senechal is expected to add depth and experience to the team’s frontcourt.

“She’s a unique kid,” Auriemma said. “Had a long conversation with (former Fairfield women’s basketball coach) Joe Frager and even people in their league were just like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’re getting her.’ She’s just an unbelievable kid. Her AD called me and said, ‘Thirty years in the business, I’ve never met a better kid than Lou.’ She’s just a unique kid. Her whole background, how she is as a player. She don’t look the part, but she’s tough as nails.”

It’s been a little over a month since UConn’s loss in the national championship game, and the Hall of Fame coach has made it a priority to get in some rest. He went to the Kentucky Derby last weekend alongside his wife Kathy and a few other women’s basketball coaches — including DePaul’s Doug Bruno.

When asked how he decompresses from the season, he was quick to joke, “I drink,” which got aroar of laughter from the crowd.

In reality, the Hall of Fame coach says he deliberately separates his work from his home life, and that’s made the biggest difference.

“The one thing that I do, though, I never take it home,” Auriemma said. “I leave it at school or I keep it to myself. I don’t take it home. In my house, there’s not one single item in my house that would tell you that I coach at UConn. Not one trophy, not one picture, zero. That’s where I live and UConn is where I work and I keep that separate and I think that helps me a lot.”

Auriemma, Mora and Hurley will meet with fans again Tuesday night in the second stop of the road show at Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford (6-8 p.m.). The three will be joined by men’s hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh and women’s soccer coach Margaret Rodriguez.

While Auriemma remains the longest-tenured coach within the group, he recognizes how he’s helped shape the UConn culture across all sports.

“I got here when it was something other than what it was right now,” he said. “There were a lot of great players that played here at UConn in the Fieldhouse, or we didn’t have a practice facility and they won national championships and the point that I think that needs because the facilities are unbelievable (now). … So it’s really not about the buildings, it’s still about the people that are in those buildings; that’s what makes it work.”