You'll have to forgive UConn Huskies women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma for "ranting" or "going off" at his postgame press conference earlier this week. After his team won its 89th straight game and broke John Wooden's UCLA (men's) record, the fiery coach ruffled some feathers.
"I just know that there wouldn't be this many people in the room if we were chasing a women's record. The reason there's everybody in this room, the reason everybody's having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record. And everybody is all up in arms about it.," Auriemma said Sunday.
"All the women are happy as hell and they can't wait to come in here and ask questions. All the guys that love women's basketball are all excited. And all the miserable bastards that follow men's basketball and don't want us to break the record are all here because they're pissed."
On second thought, Geno isn't looking for your forgiveness. That's who Geno Auriemma is. Loud, brash in your face but above all passionate. It's been interesting to listen to and read some of the reactions on Geno's short diatribe this week from all different circles of the media spectrum. The reactions have ranged from praise to scathing criticism. Pretty much what you'd expect.
I do think it's funny and somewhat ironic though how this colorful, outspoken & extremely passionate -- and did I mention incredibly successful -- head coach has been painted by those who don't know him or what he's about.
Not far from the UConn campus, in midtown New York there's a brash, outspoken larger than life figure leading the New York Jets. Rex Ryan is portrayed for the most part in a positive light and his comments are funny, wacky and provocative. He's a media darling that is rarely censored and will always speak his mind whether you want to hear it or not.
He knew when he took the job with the Jets that they were the red-headed stepchild to the G-Men and he knew that in order for his little club, the J-E-T-S, Jets to get some attention he had to put himself out there and be a lightning rod for his cause.
What Geno Auriemma does is really no different.
What is different though is that Geno is the only person in the women's basketball community willing to put himself in the line of fire of the critics. There are those who say Geno is egotistical, self-absorbed. Well gee, there's a newsflash. Show me a consistent winner and champion in any sport that isn't to some degree.
Geno understands the numbers game and I'm not talking about the attention getting figure of 89-straight wins and counting. The numbers I'm talking about are those who so easily dismiss women's basketball as subordinate to the men's game because there's no dunking and high flying block shots.
While you and others may see self-absorbed and over the top antics I see a guy who's doing what's he's done since he arrived on that campus and sat in that little office trying to start a program from scratch basically. While his comments rubbed some the wrong way earlier this week they also may have gotten three or four other people to sit up and take notice of the game he loves. Those figures are much more important to Auriemma than his historical run.
He's constantly fighting for attention and respect for this sport and the women that he coaches so that every day and every week maybe just maybe someone new jumps on board and says, "damn, these girls can play ball."
Women's basketball isn't for everyone. But the same can be said for soccer (men's or women's), figure skating, NASCAR...you get the idea. While the NFL is wildly popular, contrary to what fans of it believe not everyone loves the NFL. Heck I know college football fans who can't stand the NFL, yet there's no mockery of those fans or their beliefs. So why is it that if you tell someone you like to watch women's basketball they look at you like your growing a third eye?
I cover both the NBA and the WNBA. Not once in my career have I ever tried to compare the two. It's apples and oranges, but you see I like both of those fruits. I appreciate each for what they deliver to me as a fan. Nothing more , nothing less.
I've been a huge advocate for the women's game and while I've caught my fair share of grief for doing so I'm proud to say I still have my man card! Let's be honest there are lots of closet women's hoops fans out that but because of their fear of what their friends might say they go overboard with their criticism. It's okay, your man card will remain intact but you have to decide if you want to step outside your comfort zone.
Like all pioneers Auriemma has taken not just one but several for the team in order to gain just a little more attention and credibility. Don't feel sorry for Geno. He's made out pretty good, what with all those championship rings, banners and win streaks and he's paid quite well for the job he does. Geno will continue to take the critics best shots and he'll keep firing off his verbal jabs when the opportunity presents itself all in the name of elevating the game he loves for the women who bust their tail to play it.
As the UCONN women grabbed the headlines this week another former Huskie made headlines of her own when it was reported that Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi had tested positive for a banned substance while playing overseas for her team in Turkey. As you might suspect this is big news and not the kind any player or league wants.
Like her former coach Taurasi is a lightning rod for her sport and she can be brash and boastful at times which makes her an easy target when she stumbles. In this instance all I will say is make sure you wait for all of information to be processed and come in before you judge one of the games top players. I have a feeling that when the dust settles on this story Taurasi will come out on top like she so often does.