Georgetown Preview: Geno opens up about his mother's death, health issues and absences over the last month
The Huskies coach spoke about his absence and why the last month was so difficult for him.
How to watch
Date: Sunday, Jan. 15
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: XL Center, Hartford, CT
Stream: SNY.tv or the SNY app (in-market) | FoxSports.com or the Fox Sports App (out of market)
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)
Record: 8-8 (1-6 Big East)
Location: Washington, DC
Head coach: James Howard (sixth season)
Geno opens up about his mother's death, health issues and absences over the last month
It’s been a difficult past month for Geno Auriemma. That much is obvious — not only did he say it himself in a release, it’s also been clear from even an outsider’s perspective.
Auriemma lost his mother in early December. Shortly afterwards, he missed a pair of games due to flu-like symptoms and stayed away from the team until they returned from the holiday break. Not long on from that, Auriemma again missed two games after feeling unwell and announced he’d take a step back to focus on his health.
He returned for UConn’s win at St. John’s on Wednesday and three days later, spoke to the media for the first time since he’s been back.
"I feel better than I've felt in the last month," Auriemma said on Saturday.
The coach also added that he felt rested after his time away and seemed to be closer to his typical self than he was prior to the new year. Even the players noticed a difference.
“Having him back and seeing him smile and saying his jokes and all that, it’s just the normal coach that we know,” Lou Lopez Sénéchal said. “Feels good to see him back.”
On Saturday, Auriemma opened up about his health issues and absences for the first time, which began with the death of his mother on Dec. 8.
“I think when you go through something like that, you kind of talk yourself into thinking that you're quite prepared and rationally, you're quite prepared…You think that you can handle whatever's coming next and the next couple of days when you know it's imminent and you're there for three days and you're up 24 hours a day and you try to get everything done that you need to get done, say everything you need to say and try to put a final bow on it,” he explained.
“But it's the delayed effect that happens. The initial rationalization like, ‘Of course, this is the way things are supposed to happen. This is how it works.’ But then after the fact — and if it was just you, but then you see the effect that it has on [everyone else]. My sister has been probably with her (Auriemma’s mom) every single day for the last three years. That's like a huge, huge, huge loss for her. So every time you saw her and saw her face, saw her reaction, it triggers another one in you.”
As Auriemma worked through his grief, he began having trouble sleeping. He described his mind racing even though he physically felt tired and couldn’t get it to shut down so in order to nod off.
“When you can't sleep, nothing else works,” Auriemma said. “Your mind is going 100 miles an hour and your body's going 50. And you can't catch up.”
“You can't lay down and close your eyes. You can't sit there and do anything without that image popping into your head,” he added later. “You can't get it out of your head no matter what you try to do. And you try to keep busy and you try to do something and then the minute there's a quiet moment, it's right there. Right in front of you. It’s constant.”
So instead of taking the time he needed, Auriemma tried to get back to work — quicker than he should’ve, he admitted. He wanted something to occupy his mind and returning to basketball seemed to be the easy solution. As it turned out, that didn’t help either.
“You try to fill it by going to work and doing things and you're not really present. You're not in the moment. So you're not really doing anything to help the people on your team because your mind isn't there. You're not present,” Auriemma said. “So then you're mad. You're really mad at yourself, because you can't compartmentalize the two things and then the team's practicing and it's not going well and then you take it out on them when really they have nothing to do with it. It's all because you personally don't feel comfortable in your skin right now. And it just escalates and that was the sign that you have to walk away.”
That helped Auriemma come to the realization that he simply needed to allow himself time to heal. He stepped back from his coaching duties and spent the next week working to put himself back together.
“When you can just walk away from that for a little bit and you know that you have a staff that has all that under control 100 percent, it really does free your mind up completely so that you can actually, for a couple of days, just sit back, take a deep breath and not feel like you have to hurry up and get to somewhere to do something, to fix something, to handle something,” Auriemma explained.
The time away helped the coach gain a better perspective on his job as well.
“After all these years, believe it or not, I take every pass, every dribble, every cut, every box out, every single thing personally to heart, like I didn't do a good enough job coaching, that I should have done a better job of teaching that box out, I should have done a better job of how to make that pass so we wouldn't have 28 turnovers, blah, blah, blah. It’d just go on and on and on and on,” he said. “It's debilitating at times for coaches, and the only thing that I found to be truly liberating is you don't have the ability to control it. Once you relinquish control of it, you do feel a sense of calm and peace.”
On Wednesday at St. John’s, Auriemma tested his new mindset out for the first time. He didn’t let small mistakes “drive me nuts” and as a result, he soon noticed that the players resolved those problems on their own by playing through it. When something did bother him, the coach just walked to the end of the bench, composed himself and then returned.
“When it washes over you a little bit, [I] come on back and rejoin the group,” he said.
Even as Auriemma talked through his recent struggles, he was still his usual self at times. He made jokes, sent a few jabs — “She loves the limelight that goes with all this but hates the stuff she has to do that goes with all this,” he said of Chris Dailey— and use a healthy dose of sarcasm.
Auriemma made it clear that he felt he was well enough to be back with the team. But as for that return being on Wednesday? Well…
“It's no coincidence that the Lone Ranger and Tonto walked in at the same time,” he said. “When's a good time to come back? ‘You know, Janelle (Francisco, the team’s athletic trainer), when’s Azzi (Fudd) coming back? Wednesday? I think I'll be back Wednesday.”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to UConn WBB Weekly to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.