There is no reason Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma should talk.
There is no reason they should be friends. No reason at all.
They might have built their basketball empires at the same
unlikely site--Storrs, Conn.--and their office complexes in
Gampel Pavilion at the University of Connecticut might be 10
yards from each other, and their teams might use the same
basketball floor every day, but....
"What do we have in common?" Auriemma asks.
Calhoun's UConn men's team might have been No. 3 in the country
at week's end, having sat atop the major polls for 10 weeks
before losing to Syracuse on Feb. 1. Auriemma's UConn women's
team might have been No. 6 in the poll, having been No. 1 until
January 10, when it was unseated by defending NCAA champ
Tennessee 92-81. There might have been six weeks this season
when both Huskies teams were No. 1, both undefeated, the gods
and goddesses of college hoopdom. The only time this happened
before (one school, both teams No. 1 at the same time) might
have been for a week in February '95--same place, same teams,
coached by the same men--but....
"We probably don't have much in common," Calhoun says.
Calhoun might be this Irish guy from a working-class background
in a suburb of Boston. Auriemma might be this Italian guy from a
working-class background in a suburb of Philadelphia. They might
have arrived within a year of each other, 14 and 13 seasons ago,
as transplants, newcomers, at this middle-of-the-pack university
in the smallest of small towns. They might have first worked in
tiny offices down the hall from each other in the old Field
House. They might have gone to the same tiny pantry to use the
same coffee machine. They might have spent the same long days,
the same long nights trying to change the reluctant minds of the
same types of kids, running around the country, building,
Their success might be greater than anyone ever imagined. The
men's team, talented and deep, might go out one night in its
Nike-designed blue-and-white uniforms and press and run and
destroy people. The women, talented and just as deep, might go
out on the next night in their Nike-designed uniforms--different
from the men's only in the italic tilt of the word UConn on the
home jersey--and do the same thing....
The two men in charge might have become the most recognizable
figures in their state. They might share many of the same
friends, and they might walk the same streets, shop in the same
stores, park in the same lot. They might love basketball and
love golf and love to talk--really love to talk--about life and
their game, about anything, to anyone....
Except each other.
"I'm older, waiting for the birth of my first grandchild," the
56-year-old Calhoun says. "He has younger kids. He's in Little
League, things like that. We're just at different stages in our
"It's just the way it is," the 44-year-old Auriemma says.
There is no reason to talk. Of course not.
They were hired by the same man, former UConn athletic director
John Toner. He was looking to revitalize a men's program that
had come off four straight losing seasons. On the women's side,
Toner wanted to build a contender in a sport that was taking
hold in the public consciousness. UConn had played women's
basketball for 11 seasons and had finished over .500 only once.
An on-campus arena--the subject of discussion since the
mid-'70s--finally seemed possible. Toner wanted to be ready.
Auriemma was hired first. He came in May 1985 from the
University of Virginia, where he had been the top assistant in a
top Division I operation for four years. Toner was looking for a
family guy, young, married with children. Auriemma fit the
picture. He was 31, had two daughters, and his wife, Kathy, was
"I met with John Toner at a Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast,"
Auriemma says. "We had our coffee and doughnuts at the counter.
He pulled out a one-page contract. I still have it. I signed."
He made $28,229.
Calhoun came a year later, in May 1986. From the start of his
search for a men's coach, Toner had thought about Calhoun, the
coach for 14 years at Northeastern, in Boston. Toner liked the
way Calhoun's teams played, especially at UConn's Christmas
tournament the two previous years.
"Calhoun's teams were always overachievers," Toner says. "He was
playing mostly with kids nobody had wanted, but they were
strong, really in shape. Above the waist they were like
bodybuilders. And they ran all night. Calhoun won games he
shouldn't have won, and when he lost a game, he didn't really
lose it. The other team was just better."
Calhoun was 44 years old. He was a Boston guy, pahking his cah
in the yahd at his home in suburban Dedham, which was not far
from Braintree, where he had grown up. He had one son in
college, another still in middle school. He had tenure at
Northeastern. He wasn't sure he wanted to leave. "I'd had
chances to go," he says. "Northwestern was interested once.
Texas. I didn't follow them up. I was happy. UConn interested
me, though. I knew about the interest in basketball in the
state. Bobby Knight told me that you always should go to a
school that's 'the University of' something. Those are the
schools with the resources. This was the University of
At the press conference announcing his hiring, Calhoun told the
assembled Connecticut media that the UConn situation was
"doable." The writers from Norwich and Willimantic, from
Hartford and New Haven and Bridgeport--the largest traveling
college basketball press corps in the country, nicknamed the
Horde--wrote down the word. At least the writers who understood
Calhoun wrote down the word. He has a tendency to talk fast, 78
rpm in a 33 1/3-rpm world, all the words bent by his Boston
"That night we were listening to some sports talk show from
Hartford," Calhoun's wife, Pat, says. "A caller came on and
said, 'UConn just blew it again. I listened to this guy's press
conference, and I couldn't understand a word he said.' I give
the host credit. He said, 'Yeah, but I guess those kids at
Northeastern must have understood him well enough.'"
For Calhoun and Auriemma, the work had begun.
The University was an academic outpost in the rural northeast
corner of the state. Storrs was basically the UConn campus, plus
a few convenience stores and gas stations on the fringe. There
was no McDonald's, no Burger King, no hotel, no mall, no place
to buy a suit, no movie theater. The school's agricultural
heritage still could be seen in large barns filled with cows,
horses, chickens and pigs.
"I remember unpacking our boxes at our first apartment,"
Auriemma says. "We had all the boxes and the kids, and my wife
was pregnant with our son, and it was getting dark, and I
remember thinking, What the heck have I done?"
The athletic facilities were minimal. Basketball was played in
the all-purpose, 4,660-seat Field House. The track team used the
building. The baseball team used the building. A net was strung
around the basketball court to keep out errant baseballs and
35-pound weights. Somebody always seemed to be running, jumping
or--whack!--taking batting practice. Basketball was not taught in
Auriemma's office was so small that his desk was pushed against
assistant coach Chris Dailey's desk. A second assistant had no
desk, only a chair. A third assistant sat on the floor.
The men's office was no better. "I sat next to Dave Leitao,
another assistant," says former assistant Howie Dickenman. "It
was tight city. You could hear every word the other guy was
saying. I'd call a kid, and I'd put a finger in my open ear so I
couldn't hear Dave. When I was talking, he'd leave the room. He
said he couldn't think."
Every recruit was a challenge, every day an adventure. Problems
arose from the unlikeliest sources. "There was this rule that
you had to use a state car for all trips," Auriemma says. "So I
go to the motor pool, and they give me this light blue Chevette,
no radio, with the state seal on the door. I go to Queens to see
Christ the King, the Number 1 girls' high school team in the
country, and the kids who were playing in the game were driving
better cars than me. I remember saying, 'No way. I'm going to
find some auto dealer and give him tickets, something. Get a car
The trick for both coaches was to find kids who were a little
too short, a little too slow for the traditional powerhouses.
Calhoun and Auriemma sold UConn by dangling that old athletic
carrot: challenge. You want a challenge? Come to Connecticut.
"We actually used the opposition to recruit for us," Calhoun
says. "The Big East was having some great years, with great
players. We'd say, 'Come with us and play against Alonzo
Mourning. Or Derrick Coleman. Or Malik Sealy. Play against
Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John's. We'd say, 'Come to a place
where you're not going to be the next something. Come to a place
where you can be the first. This can be your stage.'"
Calhoun and his assistants surrendered the East Coast to the
other Big East teams. Why fight St. John's for the New York kid,
Villanova for the Philadelphia kid, Georgetown for the
Washington kid? The UConn staff attacked Connecticut first,
trying to keep local kids home, and then jumped around the
country, the farther the better.
Auriemma confined his recruiting mostly to the East Coast. He
wasn't fighting dominance by other Big East teams, all of which
seemed to be trying to start something, too. Auriemma's job was
to create a winner, yes, but also a feeling, a buzz, a
beginning. No one was watching UConn women's basketball. "I'd go
to the games, and there'd be 50 people," Kathy Auriemma says.
"I'd know every one of them. They'd be our friends or the
friends or relatives of the players, and that'd be it."
"I made my students come to the games," Chris Dailey says. "I
had a phys ed class on running. If you missed a class, you could
come to women's basketball and make up the credit."
The two head coaches went off on their separate missions,
climbing their separate beanstalks. Jim and Geno. They were a
couple of workaholics. They were friendly enough--Calhoun says
they jogged together a few times--but never friends. They were
consumed by their own separate problems. They were finding their
own separate answers.
"If they ever were going to become friends, it would have
happened in those early years," a mutual friend says. "It's too
late now. You know what I think happened? Geno never went to the
altar. He went his own way. He never looked for Jim's advice.
There's a soccer coach at UConn now--Ray Reid, slightly younger
than Geno. He went to the altar, asked Jim for advice. He even
takes soccer recruits to meet Jim. He and Jim have become pretty
The rise of the two teams was dramatic. By the time the new
building, Gampel Pavilion, opened in January 1990, Calhoun had
built a team that would finish 31-6 and one Christian Laettner
jump shot from the Final Four, losing 79-78 to Duke in the East
Regional final. After four years on the job, Calhoun was voted
Coach of the Year.
In the same season the UConn women finished 25-6 and appeared in
their second NCAA tournament in a row. A year later they would
go to the Final Four. Four years after that they would be
perfect, 35-0, the nation's darlings. Auriemma would be Coach of
"The most important recruit in the school's history was Chris
Smith [in 1988]," Calhoun says. "He was a kid from Bridgeport who
could have gone to Villanova or BC. When he came here, it was a
message to other kids: We were going to keep the good Connecticut
kid in the state. We were building a fence around the border."
"We got Kerry Bascomb from New Hampshire [in 1987]," Auriemma
says. "We made a push for her. Nobody knew how good she really
was. Then we got Meghan Pattyson [in 1988] and we got rolling.
Then we got Rebecca Lobo from Massachusetts [in 1991]. She was a
player everyone wanted. She legitimized us nationally."
The faces of the two coaches were the faces of the two teams.
Calhoun was confrontational, emotions rolling over his sharp
Irish features like storm systems over a weatherman's map. He
chewed gum on the sideline at hyper speed, walked, pouted,
stamped his foot, turned to the crowd in agony. Collar undone,
tie loose, he looked like a tourist in the big city who had just
been shortchanged by a cabdriver. This was the men's game, a
slugfest, a war. Calhoun was the besieged general.
Auriemma was quieter, the intense tactician. He counseled and
consoled. He could say hard things in practice--"He once told
me, 'You're a nightmare, I don't care if you get up and go home
to North Carolina right now,'" guard Shea Ralph says--but he
would pull the string back. Players would go to his house to
play Scrabble. Auriemma, at a quick glance, looked like a
brotherly Frankie Avalon.
The two men, as their teams became better and better--top-ranked
recruits such as Donyell Marshall and Ray Allen and Jennifer
Rizzotti and Nykesha Sales arriving regularly--became a
statewide preoccupation. How could they be accomplishing what
they were accomplishing? Who were they? Their personalities
unfolded in public.
"I've always been a Don Quixote kind of character," Calhoun
says. "Maybe it's because my father died when I was 15. I've
always been the underdog. That's the way I've always thought of
Called in from the outfield during a baseball game to be told of
his father's death from a heart attack, Calhoun, suddenly the
man of a large household, became a protector, a fighter for what
he thought was right. He took this attitude with him to American
International College in Springfield, Mass., where he was a
combative forward. He took it to three high school coaching
jobs, then to Northeastern. He took it to UConn. He fed it,
nurtured it, every day another climb up a large mountain of
perceived injustice. Bright, sarcastic, funny, Calhoun would
tangle with referees, writers, timekeepers, whichever
knucklehead had the audacity to tell him no at the wrong time.
The list of offenders was long, and the confrontations were
"He's just the best adversary in the world," Randy Smith,
columnist for the Manchester (Conn.) Journal-Enquirer, says.
"I've gone up against him maybe 24 times, and I'm 0-24, but
they've all been great. He takes the team to Hawaii one year. I
notice that the team doesn't visit the USS Arizona, the war
memorial. I write a column about how they should have gone--if
going to Hawaii was supposed to be an educational experience,
they should have seen this important landmark. I wait. Two weeks
later, the Hartford Civic Center, before a game. Calhoun's going
up an escalator. I'm on the ground floor. He yells, 'Hey, Randy!
You think we should have gone to the goddam Mark Twain House
this afternoon?' It was beautiful."
"I've been married to him for 32 years, and sometimes I don't
know him," Pat Calhoun says. "He can get wound up about things
that don't affect him. Just today he was all upset about
something he read about the [New England] Patriots. Some guy
wanted Pete Carroll to be fired. Doesn't the guy know about all
the injuries? What's he talking about? I tell him to let it go.
He just can't."
Auriemma was a more subdued underdog in the face of life's
incivilities. He was seven years old when his family moved to
Norristown, Pa., from a small town outside of Naples, Italy. He
had never ridden in a car until he took the trip to the airport.
His father and uncle worked in the Norristown steel mill, and
their two families lived in the same house, four adults, seven
kids. Geno's parents had no schooling past the second grade.
The son lived the traditional story of the immigrant kid who
found acceptance through sports. Baseball was Geno's favorite,
but in the winter he played basketball. An undersized guard, he
was cut from his school team in the seventh grade, eighth grade,
ninth. In the 10th grade he made the team. He fell in love with
basketball, with the discipline, the fun, the noise, everything
about the game.
After graduating from West Chester (Pa.) University, where he
didn't play, he moved into high school coaching part-time. He
worked for short money as an assistant with girls' programs,
boys' programs, back and forth. He worked full-time as a teacher
and, weekends and summers, as a roofer. He went to summer camps
and clinics. He hoped he'd become a men's coach at some level.
Then he was offered the assistant's job with the Virginia women.
He'd never traveled as far south as Charlottesville before he
went for the interview. Hey, it was warm in Charlottesville. He
became a women's assistant.
"I've always thought that you work as hard as you can, and
sometimes you get lucky," Auriemma says. "Sometimes you don't.
My father, he never got lucky. He didn't own a car until he was
55 years old. He worked in the steel mill all his life. Me? I
got lucky. I'm lucky to be here. It was the right time, with
women's basketball becoming popular. It was the right place,
close enough to ESPN, to New York City, for people to pay
attention, to send reporters when we started going well. I got
The 35-0 season, in 1994-95, Lobo's senior year, was the one
that sent the luck over the top. The UConn men, who rose to the
top of the rankings for a while and finished 28-5, were among
the most talented in school history, but the women became the
headliners. The team that had played before 50 people only seven
years earlier filled Gampel's 10,027 seats for 12 of 18 home
dates. A new, different UConn basketball crowd gathered, not so
much students but alumni, families, local residents, women,
people who had been shut out of the consistent sellouts of the
men's games. It was a love affair, different voices from
different sections of Connecticut's newspapers drawn to the game
by the idea of women as athletes, "girls next door," on a
national stage. "Why doesn't Rebecca play a couple of games for
the men's team?" new voices asked.
"Why don't we schedule an exhibition, the UConn men against the
"The women are better than the men. They're the national
It was giddy, stupid stuff. It drove the combative coach in the
men's office to distraction.
"I made a joke," Calhoun says. "I was talking with Malcolm
Moran, who was then with The New York Times. He'd said that the
crowd at the women's games looked like the crowd at a circus. I
think he wrote that, too. I said some things off that, and a guy
from Dallas came into the conversation halfway through and wrote
them down. Then he printed them."
The quote appeared in a Feb. 15, 1995, story by Steve Richardson
of The Dallas Morning News, in a paragraph that read: "When
Calhoun tried to get to practice one Sunday in January after a
women's game, he got caught in exiting traffic. After looking at
faces in the crowd, he quipped that Connecticut was going to
have to set up a 'day-care center and senior citizens home for
its women fans.'"
The words--although they aptly described the crowd--created a
hoo-ha in Connecticut. Eleven days after Richardson's article
came out, The Hartford Courant ran a story headlined 'DYNAMIC
TENSION' DIVIDES UCONN'S BASKETBALL COACHES; CALHOUN DENIES HIS
COMMENTS WERE SWIPES AT WOMEN'S PROGRAM. UConn's president at the
time, Harry Hartley, had used the phrase dynamic tension to
describe the relationship between his two coaches.
"It's a theory of management that says competition can be
constructive and useful," Hartley explained in the Courant story.
"You've got two No. 1 programs, two great coaches who want to be
No. 1 in their game. It might help one to be the best."
Calhoun was dragged into a political-correctness battle he
couldn't hope to win. On Jan. 28 the men had been clobbered by
Kansas 88-59. That game was part of a rare men's-women's
doubleheader at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. The UConn women won
their game 97-87. The two teams had traveled on the same
chartered plane. Calhoun, grumpy in defeat, said after the game,
"I'm concerned about the way we played...but at last report, Lew
Perkins [the UConn athletic director] is going to continue the
sport of men's basketball at the school. Women's, obviously they
will." This comment was reported in the Courant story.
Was Calhoun jealous of the women? Did he take them lightly,
think they somehow weren't equal? Why didn't he ever go to the
women's games? Why didn't Auriemma, in fact, go to many of the
men's games? What was the deal? The separate courses of the
coaches became an issue.
"It had nothing to do with the women, trust me," Calhoun said at
that point, trying to correct the impression he made with his
Kansas City remarks. "Occasionally something gets misconstrued,
or a hair gets out of place. But that does not mean that you're
going bald. No one could be happier for [the women's] success."
"I never got it," Pat Calhoun says. "It became a media whatever.
A women's issue. Jim's not a male chauvinist. I wouldn't be
married to him if he were. Believe me. I walked in Washington
for women's rights. I'm a member of NOW. So what if Jim and Geno
aren't best friends?"
Auriemma kept quiet. He insisted that he had never said anything
publicly that might harm the university and never would. He
still says the same thing, although he is quick to defend his
program and its fans. "I like our crowds," he says. "Who says
you have to have that 18-to-35 male demographic, a bunch of
drunks yelling in the next seats? What makes that crowd any
better than our crowd? You come to our games, you have a nice,
enjoyable day. Does there have to be a point spread on the game
to make it enjoyable? I don't think so."
The controversy eventually dried up, overwhelmed by the women's
perfect season and the men's trip to the Elite Eight, where they
lost 102-96 to UCLA, the eventual NCAA champ. But the chill of
"dynamic tension" remained. Why didn't Jim talk with Geno? Why
didn't Geno talk with Jim? Men versus women. Women versus men.
Why couldn't everybody just get along?
"I respect everything Geno's done," Calhoun says, cautious with
his words. "I was there when no one was watching in the Field
House. It's been magical, the way the crowds have come. I just
don't want my program to be compared to Geno's. I want my team
to be compared with Mike Krzyzewski's at Duke, to programs like
that. Those are the ones we're competing against. Women's
basketball is a different game, different pace, played with
different rules. Even the ball is different."
Auriemma agrees. "The comparisons are unfair," he says. "I don't
want the women's game compared with the men's. You read things
like, 'The men would kill the women in a game.' Well, they would.
But who cares? The women don't have to play the men. That's the
rule. Who cares if Steffi Graf couldn't beat Pete Sampras? She
doesn't have to play Pete Sampras to win Wimbledon. That's the
If there is a deep cause for the split between the two men, it
remains personal, unspoken. Calhoun says UConn has a lot of
coaches he knows only slightly. He never really got to know
football coach Skip Holtz before he departed. At other schools,
relationships vary between the men's and women's basketball
coaches. Some are good friends (box, page 70), but the majority
are neutral at best.
"When I was an assistant at Virginia, I got along great with
Terry Holland, who was the men's coach," Auriemma says.
"Everybody'd go out together. Terry'd pick up the check, because
he was making so much money. We talked a lot. I thought that was
the way it always would be. It just hasn't happened with Jim. In
the end, it doesn't matter if we go to dinner or not."
So there really is no reason the two men should talk. Of course
not. There is no reason they should be friends. No reason they
should pose together for a photo for this article, which the
UConn S.I.D. declined to even ask them to do. The two men might
be headed to the Final Four, one goal that has eluded Calhoun.
The women might be headed to the Final Four, looking for revenge
against Tennessee. The men have a 6'11" player from the Sudan
and a 7-footer from Australia, both sitting out the year, and
they already have signed three top recruits for next year; the
women have five freshmen who were high school All-Americas, best
UConn recruiting class ever, and the level of optimism in both
programs is at an alltime high, but....
"We're two different types of people," Auriemma says. "Our issues
"There's no rivalry or jealousy," Calhoun says. "No. That's not
what it's about. We're in different worlds."
So the players talk. The players from the two teams talk all the
time. They talk about feet. ("We were comparing feet in the
trainer's room the other day," guard Ricky Moore says. "You know
how everybody's feet are ugly if you really look?") They talk
about anything at all. The women rag on Kevin Freeman, stretched
on a table with a bag of ice on his shin splints; they ask if "a
real power forward" should be in the trainer's room. The men rag
on the women's rah-rah attitude, cheering for a simple foul shot
made in practice.
So the assistant coaches talk, are friends. So former Calhoun
assistant Dickenman is godfather to Auriemma's son. So the
athletic director, Perkins, talks to both men. So Dee Rowe, a
former UConn men's basketball coach, is a confidant of both.
So the base salary of the two men is the same figure, $153,306.
So they both make a whole lot more from sneaker contracts,
speaking engagements, other interests. (Calhoun owns part of a
bar in Hartford. Auriemma broadcasts WNBA games on ESPN in the
summer.) So Calhoun gave $125,000 last year to the cardiology
unit of the UConn health center in memory of his dad. So
Auriemma gave $125,000 to the Homer Babbidge Library at UConn in
tribute to his parents, who came to the U.S. not knowing a word
of English. So....
"I do love the way his teams play," Auriemma says of Calhoun. "I
love to watch them. I love the control on defense, the press. I
love the freedom he gives his players on offense, not total
freedom, but freedom, the running. I love that."
"I'd tell any woman in the country to come to UConn to play for
Geno," Calhoun says. "Look at what he's done. Where else would
you want to go?"
No reason at all.
Two men don't have to talk, be friends. Even if they lead pretty
much the same life.
Among the many things Geno Auriemma and Jim Calhoun have in
common is that their UConn teams have had only one losing season
apiece: the first year of each coach's tenure. Here is how the
two Huskies basketball squads have stacked up against each other
since Auriemma took over the women in 1985 and Calhoun the men
YEAR RECORD SEASON RANKING POSTSEASON
'85-86 -- -- --
'86-87 9-19 NR --
'87-88 20-14 NR NIT Champion
'88-89 18-13 NR NIT 3rd round
'89-90 31-6 4 NCAA Elite Eight
'90-91 20-11 NR NCAA 3rd round
'91-92 20-10 NR NCAA 2nd round
'92-93 15-13 NR NIT 1st round
'93-94 29-5 4 NCAA 3rd round
'94-95 28-5 8 NCAA Elite Eight
'95-96 30-2 3 NCAA 3rd round
'96-97 18-15 NR NIT Final Four
'97-98 32-5 6 NCAA Elite Eight
'98-99 25-2 3 --
[YEAR] RECORD SEASON RANKING POSTSEASON
['85-86] 12-15 NR --
['86-87] 14-13 NR --
['87-88] 17-11 NR --
['88-89] 24-6 NR NCAA 1st round
['89-90] 25-6 NR NCAA 2nd round
['90-91] 29-5 13 NCAA Final Four
['91-92] 23-11 NR NCAA 2nd round
['92-93] 18-11 NR NCAA 1st round
['93-94] 30-3 3 NCAA Elite Eight
['94-95] 35-0 1 NCAA Champion
['95-96] 34-4 2 NCAA Final Four
['96-97] 33-1 1 NCAA Elite Eight
['97-98] 34-3 3 NCAA Elite Eight
['98-99] 25-4 6 --
UConn, led by Lobo (left), won the NCAA women's basketball title
in '95, but the Huskies men weren't able to make it a
transgender double. No Division I school, in fact, has achieved
the double in basketball, but several have in other sports.
Below are the Division I colleges whose men and women in the
same sport have won national titles the same school year since
SCHOOL YEAR SPORT
Arizona State 1990 Golf
LSU 1989, '90 Outdoor track
Princeton 1994 Lacrosse
Stanford 1996 Cross-country
Stanford 1992, '93, '94, '98 Swimming and diving
Stanford 1986, '88, '89, '90, '97 Tennis
Stanford 1996-97 Volleyball
Texas 1988, '90, '91 Swimming and diving
Wisconsin 1985 Cross-country
Irish features like storm systems. This was the men's game, a
slugfest, a war.
He counseled and consoled.
think they weren't equal?
legitimized us nationally."
remains personal, unspoken. Calhoun says UConn has a lot of
coaches he knows only slightly.