By PAT EATON-ROBB, AP Sports Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Chris Dailey was excited when she was hired at the University of Connecticut in 1985 to find out how many head coaching duties Geno Auriemma would let her handle as his top assistant.
“Then at some point, I figured out that it was all stuff he didn’t want to do,” she said. “But that’s OK, because it was all stuff I was better at.”
The duo has impressive results over 30 years together at UConn.
Nine national titles. More than 900 wins.
The most successful dynasty in women’s basketball is all but certain to be a top-seed again Monday when this year’s NCAA Tournament field is announced.
“From the start, it’s been more of partners, two people starting a business and they each have an equal stake in it,” Auriemma said. “We used her strengths and mine and put them together to build this thing from a mom-and-pop operation into what it is today.”
Dailey has turned down numerous head coaching opportunities. She did not get a job at her alma mater, Rutgers, in 1995, and says circumstances have never seemed right to go anywhere else. She makes more than $314,000 a year at UConn and has job security. And besides, she jokes, why would she ever want to leave Geno?
“I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that there is nothing wrong with being happy where you are,” she said. “And I’m happy.”
They’ve celebrated holidays together, mourned the loss of each other’s fathers together. In the early days, they had apartments around the corner from each other.
Auriemma and his wife, Kathy, called Dailey to babysit their oldest child, Jenna, when her sister Alyssa was born. Dailey is also godmother to their son, Michael.
The pair met in the 1980s while Auriemma was an assistant at Virginia and Dailey was an assistant at Rutgers, where she had played on a national championship team. She was leading a conference on coaching and Auriemma said he was struck by her organization and attention to detail.
“She was clearly the smartest person in the room,” he said.
Daily said she wasn’t initially interested in joining Auriemma at UConn, but eventually became drawn to the idea of helping build a program from the ground up. They shared a vision emphasizing team, fundamentals and strict attention to detail.
“We talked at the very start about how we wanted our kids to act, how we wanted to portray the program and how when people perceive the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program, this is what they are going to say,” Dailey said.
Auriemma said their styles meshed well. Both were perfectionists, but Dailey had strengths that he did not (punctuality, dealing with players off the court), while he was better at things like interacting with media and putting together a schedule.
She enforces their rules –no jeans on team outings, no wearing sweats to class or headphones in public, no visible tattoos– and developed a reputation as team disciplinarian.
Dailey said Auriemma will go months without mentioning those rules, then say something in practice like: “So, what, now we’re just going to let them wear their socks any way they want, too? We’re just like everyone else?”
“That’s when I want to punch him the face,” Dailey joked.
Meghan Pattyson Culmo, who played and coached for Auriemma and Dailey at UConn, said Dailey enforces education, discipline and team above individual.
Dailey has a master’s degree in educational administration and says she is strict at first before gradually loosening the reins. Then, she says, players make the same choices the coaches would have made for them.
Dailey also develops team-building outings on road trips, such as scavenger hunts designed to teach players about the cities in which they play.
“He’s a basketball genius, and knows how to get his players motivated, knows the things to run,” said Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott, who played for UConn and was an assistant coach there for 12 seasons. “But she’s the one that made us become young women– taught us how to carry ourselves, how to speak to people, how to dress.”
When Auriemma sends a player to the bench during a game, “CD” whispers words of encouragement, former players say.
“They work so well off of each other,” said forward Breanna Stewart, who is hoping to be part of a third consecutive national championship at UConn this spring. “They always know what the other one is trying to do. But sometimes they will have these little arguments, like an old couple, and it’s funny.”
Auriemma jokes that Dailey can’t cook– “I’m not sure why she even had an oven put it her house”– and makes fun of her fashion love– “Nordstrom’s stock would go down 50 points if she stopped shopping there.”
But he believes UConn would not have won nine national championships without her, that he’d be lying to think he could have done it with anyone.
“That’s like saying, `Would you have been able to win three national championships in a row without Diana Taurasi?”’ he said. “I don’t think so.”
Auriemma was inducted in 2006 into the Basketball Hall of Fame and has his name on a plaque on the wall of Gampel Pavilion. Dailey has made it only as far as the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.
She’s fine with that, she says.
“Besides, I understand his Hall of Fame plaque is in some corner somewhere,” she said, “where nobody can see it anyhow.”
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