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Geno's "Summitt Phase" As a Young Coach

Aug 30, 2011
There is an article in today's (10/18) Hartford Courant by Mike Anthony in which both Geno and Dan Hurley describe their first season as head coaches. This quote from Geno about his 1985-86 UConn team really got my attention:

"There's a lot more emphasis put on the offensive end than there was back then ... It was all about toughness and conditioning drills ... and trying to beat some intensity into them, or toughness into them. Offense was kind of left on the back burner. ... I was just trying to teach toughness and defense."

In other words, to my complete surprise, Geno started out as a head coach in the exact mold of Pat Summitt. However, since then, Geno has evolved into the offensive coach that we know today:

"For me, the past 20-something years, have been more understanding that's not what the game is about. The game is about, 'Can you get a bucket when you really, really need one? Can you teach your players how to play a certain style? I wasn't really worried about that back then.' " He said that the result was "drills, drills, drills", to the point where Peggy Walsh later told him that she told her roommate in the dorm that the roommate would have to sleep in the top bunk, because Peggy couldn't climb up there after an afternoon of basketball practice.

To me, this basically describes the Tennessee coaching style during the entirety of the Pat Summitt and Holly Warlick eras. Tennessee teams were always well conditioned and athletic, and they played tough defense. They competed with maximum intensity from the tip to the last whistle. But they never had much of a team-oriented offense, and reportedly they didn't practice offense very much. By contrast, Geno had the courage and the appetite to install a whole new offensive system in the summer and fall before the team's first national championship season on 1994-95. In the article, he says this:

"There hasn't been, I don't think, any time over the last 25 years where I've come into a new season and just said, 'Let's do it exactly the way we did it last year.' That's not who I am. I'm a tinkerer. I like new wrinkles to what we do, and still hold onto all the stuff that's great about what we do."

Unlike the Tennessee coaches of the Summitt-Warlick era, Geno grew past his initial focus on toughness and defense. In addition to being more successful on the court as a direct result of that, it's beyond question that his offensive innovations have been a great draw for top recruits. Paige has said that it looked like so much fun to play basketball the way that UConn did, and that was a big reason why she chose to come to Storrs. I'm sure she is not the only one who looked at her college choice in that way.


How it is
Aug 26, 2011
Not sure it is correct to lump Holly and Pat together. Pat was a head coach who create a superior winning program with her own style, while Holly stated in her first few years she was going to copy everything Pat did. I never got the impression that Holly ever had an original thought and I had this mental image of her going home each night and studying her copious notebooks from years as Pat's assistant to determine what the schedule should be for the next day's practice with no reference to her current team - 'lets see, this will be day 17 of practice so that means after our standard warm-up, we do twenty minutes of rebounding practice, followed by 30 minutes of pick and roll, followed by ....' I agree that TN had under Pat very limited offensive concepts and the running BY term for it was 'chuck it and rebound'. Holly's teams struggled even with that concept.

I also think that the landscape of recruits changed dramatically over Pat's and Geno's career in terms of how players practiced and played in HS and for AAU - the idea of rigorous team practices has faded, and so players are less adept at playing as a team and more of any coach's teaching has to be focused on team dynamics and team concepts. 80s and 90s recruits probably had a better handle on basic team offensive concepts.

And Geno was taking over a truly dreadful program and the easiest way to improve such a program with limited talent is to instill toughness and defensive intensity. You need talent to consistently make wide open jump shots, you just need toughness and intensity to defend against giving open jump shots. We have seen a lot of teams in the BE and the AAC and in other conference as well improve significantly by increasing their toughness. C.Viv has made a career at numerous schools on the strength of her defenses.