UConn coaches have discovered their easy chairs


The public perception of the UConn athletic department reeks of desperation, whose only elixir is to be delivered from Elba, otherwise known as the American Athletic Conference. Things couldn't possibly be good, especially in the opinions of folks who form their opinions from their recliners or that bastion of sensibility, the Internet.

Au contraire. Because if nothing else, this recent basketball success, two teams in the Sweet 16, has turned the spotlight inward, revealing a department that's happier and more together than ever.

"I think 'all in' is really cool," Geno Auriemma was saying the other night, alluding to a newer, fresher attitude, fostered through athletic director Warde Manuel's leadership style, whose byproducts are better communication and more camaraderie.

"Warde is very hands on," Auriemma was saying. "He's constantly interacting, not just from up top. Down here, too. There's head coaches meetings once a month. We're all there and get to talk about whatever we want. We're interacting with all the other coaches more than we ever did in the past. You get to talk to guys about whatever they're doing. It's really cool. It's just easy. Period."

Auriemma used that word - easy - several times. Easy. This just in: He never used that word much before. Nobody else in the athletic department did either.

"It's just easy. That's the best word I can use to describe it," Auriemma said. "There were things here that had always been difficult for no reason. Now it's easy. Just easy."

Auriemma didn't elaborate. Here's a wild guess: The new "easy" is the residual effect of the old line about how some people brighten a room when they enter; others when they leave.

It's no secret that Auriemma wouldn't have made Jim Calhoun a prohibitive favorite to share a bottle of Barolo with him. Auriemma isn't alone in the opinion that Calhoun caused uneasiness within the department, leaving many colleagues walking on the apocryphal eggshells.

UConn's new solidarity also stems from the departure of former athletic director Jeff Hathaway, whose leadership wasn't awash in communication, leading to department wide confusion and in some cases, contempt.

It's all past tense now.

Auriemma even lobbed a snowball at football coach Bob Diaco, indicating a burgeoning friendship. Diaco has already eaten several times at Geno's Grille in Storrs.

"This new football coach is on probation still," Auriemma said. "Other guys didn't want to hear any of my suggestions about running the spread offense. I'm giving him the first month of the season. If he doesn't take any of my suggestions, I'm putting him on the blacklist, too."

Nowhere does it say that colleagues within a college athletic department must sit around the campfire and sing "Stand By Me." And I'm not suggesting UConn doesn't have some people who do miserable as habit, not reaction. But it's a whole lot better than a few years ago.

"From what I hear from coaching friends, other athletic departments (throughout the country) fall into two categories," Auriemma said. "The first is one big happy family. The other is all three of the major programs on campus have their own fiefdoms and nobody messes with anybody else. I'm sure at some places it's somewhere in between. Other coaches I talk to, they're either all in, or 'nah, man, we don't have anything to do with those guys.'"

Then Auriemma paused and said, "To me, it should be easy."

Which is what it's become. All that and Glasnost between the basketball programs, too.

"There's always been a tremendous amount of interaction between the guys on the men's team and guys on our team," Auriemma said. "I remember coming back from our first national championship and the first person we ran into was Ray (Allen) right outside the locker room.

"It's a little bit different now with Kevin. I was here when he visited. I watched him play. Got to know him well. Play golf with him. Now it's walk in, 'hey, yo, what's up?' It takes like five seconds to solve whatever issue comes up. No problems. Pretty simple."

The new UConn.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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