UConn women's coach Geno Auriemma has seven national titles to his name. Until earlier this month, the worst thing you could say about him was that he was hard on his players, a trait shared by most great coaches. Then last week, he was sued for allegedly trying to forcibly kiss a female employee of the NBA's security detail during a basketball tournament in Russia in 2009, and then allegedly asking that the woman not be a part of the security team during the upcoming London Olympics.
Last week, Auriemma said "in the end, everything will come out." And on Wednesday, in preparation for next month's Olympics, the coach says that the lawsuit won't be a distraction for him or his team. “It better not be, and I don’t think it will be,” said Auriemma (via the AP), who called his team focused and intent on winning a gold medal.
He spoke publicly on the matter for the first time this week during a pro-am appearance at the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship some 30 miles from UConn's campus. “I’m not going to let anything change the way I go about my job, about my life,” he said. “If I was scared of anything, I wouldn’t be out here. But I’m not.”
On the first tee, Auriemma received a loud ovation from the gallery. He joked that one his player partners, professional wrestler Booker T., might be a good person to bring “on road trips where I need some kind of protection. … Like my wife said, those people who didn’t like me, like me less, and those people who did like me, like me the same,” he said. “So, I guess it’s a net loss.”
And while his former players have mostly steered clear of discussions about the lawsuit, Auriemma assistant Chris Dailey has been outspoken in support of him. “I have worked with him for 27 years and I don’t think I need to see anything more than that to speak about his character or anything else,” she said. “End of story.”
But as the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla wrote on Wednesday, Auriemma has more at stake than a legal outcome. There's also his reputation.
“I see a lot of similarities in Geno’s case with that of Roger Clemens,” Adam Nisenson, the co-president of Active Imagination, a health and sports marketing company in Houston, told Altavilla. “I live in Los Angeles now, but I went to school at the University of Texas and when I heard he [Clemens] was acquitted [of perjury] I was thrilled. Was he guilty? I don’t know, but in my eyes he wasn’t [Clemens attended Texas].
“What I am getting at is this: in the eyes of UConn fans in the state of Connecticut, Geno can probably never do wrong because of who he is; the status he has attained. So for that reason [if he is found innocent] I think he is safe regionally [for marketing and endorsements]. But nationally, the view of who he is will be skewed [among fans and companies].”
The Clemens comparisons seem like a stretch but Rick Cerrone, the former Yankees catcher who now makes his leaving as a media consultant, has some advice for the UConn coach.
“Part of Geno’s problem, and it may be part of the solution, is that there is little he can really do [to defend himself],” Cerrone told Altavilla. “In some regards, he can use the lawsuit as a shield for not saying anything about the situation. But as far as everything he does from this day forward, this is what I would say to him: Be careful, especially in what he says and how her treats the media. I’ve always told people in his situation that you need to act like Jackie Robinson did by just letting things go.”