The Washington Post
One thousand wins ago, what Chris Dailey remembers most is that Geno Auriemma got two technical fouls in their first game coaching the UConn women’s basketball team.
The Huskies had made the two-hour bus ride from Storrs to New Rochelle, N.Y., to play Iona on Nov. 23, 1985. It was the debut game as head coach for Auriemma, who had left Debbie Ryan’s staff at Virginia with visions of turning a sleepy village in Connecticut into the center of the world for women’s college basketball.
Dailey, a former assistant at her alma mater Rutgers, was the woman standing by his side.
“I remember my dad came to the game, and he was like one of three people in the gym,” Dailey said in a telephone interview Monday. “It was the first game Geno and I coached together, we were setting the tone of what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. Yeah, I was a little nervous.
“Fortunately, back then it was three technicals and you were thrown out of a game. So we didn’t have a situation in Game 1. My father probably thought, ‘Oh my God, what has she gotten herself into?’”
On Tuesday, 32 years after that 73-67 win over Iona, Auriemma recorded his 1,000th victory by defeating Oklahoma at Mohegan Sun Arena. Dailey, whose title now reads associate head coach, was standing by his side - just as she did for that first win against Iona, for Connecticut’s record 11 national titles and through the three longest winning streaks in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history.
The New Jersey native has eschewed head coaching job offers and instead chosen to remain Auriemma’s top assistant for 33 seasons. She helped build UConn into a dynasty.
On Tuesday, Dailey got her 1,000th victory as well.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Auriemma said in a recent phone interview. “We’ve seen the program grow together, and we’ve each had a hand in it. She’s as much responsible as I am, for all this.”
Auriemma and Dailey first met on the recruiting trail in the 1980s, back when he was at Virginia and she was an assistant at Rutgers, where she had captained the woman’s basketball team for two years and won an AIAW Division I national championship with the Scarlet Knights.
They developed a mutual respect, and Auriemma came to admire Dailey for possessing all the personality traits he didn’t have: Namely, an intense attention to detail. She was the head of assistant coaches for the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association at the time.
When Auriemma was selected to take over at Connecticut, the first person he thought to call was Dailey.
“Her abilities to push forward and do what needed to be done, I wouldn’t be able to do it without the things that she does,” Auriemma said.
“All of my weaknesses are her strengths, and our personalities are just enough alike and just enough different.”
From the early days at Connecticut - back when Dailey and Auriemma shared a single office with two rotary phones so they could make recruiting calls at the same time - the two coaches were clear in their roles.
Auriemma was the visionary. Dailey took control of the little things, from what the team ate (she wanted turkey sandwiches, instead of ham, for the team meals) to implementing rules like no jeans during team outings and no sweatpants in class.
“It’s like raising kids,” Dailey said, “you just decide the things that are going to be important. There’s going to be a standard.”
Dailey is a known clotheshorse, and how her players looked was just as important to her. It was about creating an identity.
“Behind the branding of UConn, she was the execution,” said Swin Cash, an All-American at Connecticut and the No. 2 pick in the 2002 WNBA draft the year she graduated, after teammate Sue Bird. “We would say, ‘Why are we going to this Big East event and we have to wear dress casual when other teams are coming in their team sweats?’ We used to always get, ‘Well, are you like the other teams? Do you want to look like the other teams? Or are you UConn?’”
Said Debbie Antonelli, a longtime college basketball analyst who called Tuesday’s game for CBS Sports Network: “It’s those little details that help separate UConn from everyone else. They do care about their brand, they care about their first impression, and they want to be good role models … and that’s a big part of who they recruit. Is this person going to be somebody that can be a part of the team? You want to wear a different pair of shoes? No. You want to wear some Beats to warm up? No. That’s not what they do, that’s not the team.”
Dailey’s reputation as a disciplinarian extended on court, where she and Auriemma are both demanding perfectionists. But Auriemma was demanding all the time and Dailey, who began her career as a teacher out of college before transitioning to coaching, was better at dealing with players off court.
Even now, she organizes team charity events and team outings. She makes sure that when Auriemma lights into a player, she is the encouraging voice.
“We try to make it so there’s always a voice of, ‘You can do this,’ and always a voice of ‘You’ve got to do more,’” Dailey said.
Jamelle Elliott, a player at Connecticut before she worked as an assistant alongside Dailey and Auriemma for 11 years, said that strength of Dailey’s extended into things like preparing players to speak in front of the media and making sure their grades were up to par.
“She taught us how to walk into a room and look millionaires in the eye, or have a conversation with somebody that’s out of our age group,” said Elliott, now the head coach at Cincinnati. “Those things have really stayed with me now that I’m a head coach. … Those are the things that are priceless that she cared about. She made sure that we were prepared post-UConn to be able to function in society.”
Dailey and Auriemma’s yin-and-yang working relationship is part of why Dailey, 58, never left for a head coaching job. She could take ownership and make a mark on the program at Connecticut.
Dailey said she has seriously entertained two potential head coaching job offers in her three-plus decades with Auriemma, but neither seemed a perfect fit. At Connecticut, Dailey reportedly makes more than $314,000 annually, has job security, her pick of the best recruits in the country and, as she sees it, a new challenge every season.
“I’ve learned over the years that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying where you are,” Dailey said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not working to improve, it doesn’t mean you’re not working to become a better coach or a better person, that doesn’t mean you’re stagnant, it just means you really enjoy where you are. And that’s okay.”
Dailey said before the game she was looking forward to her players’ reactions on Tuesday should the Huskies notch win number 1,000.
“It’s hard to believe. It’s a number that - who goes into coaching thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to win 1,000 games?’ That’s just, no one does that,” she said. “You go into coaching because you love working with kids and you love the game and I wanted to give other females the opportunity to have a great college experience like I did. And I’ve been able to do that.
“And along the way we’ve won a bunch of games and a bunch of championships. It’s been a great ride, and I hope we’re not done yet.”