Co-written by Nathan Odom
On this week’s Rocky Topics, assistant sports editors David Bradford and Nathan Odom debate whether Geno Auriemma has overtaken Pat Summitt as the greatest coach in the history of women’s college basketball.
Bradford: Auriemma passed Summitt as the greatest coach in women’s college basketball history well before UConn’s 82-51 win over Syracuse on Sunday night. Summitt does deserve credit as a coaching pioneer for women’s basketball, but Auriemma has perfected the formula. Not only does he grab the top recruits, but his coaching brings the absolute best out of every player. Not saying that Summitt didn’t do that, but the Huskies are 11-0 in championship games under Auriemma. Four of those wins coming against the Summitt-led Lady Vols. Clearly, Auriemma is at a level even beyond Rocky Top’s favorite coach.
Odom: I have the utmost respect for Geno Auriemma and what he has done as the head coach of Connecticut. However, I have to disagree here. Not only does Summitt still have over 100 more wins than Geno — four seasons after she stepped down from her head coaching position — but she made Tennessee Lady Vol basketball dominant year after year for nearly 40 seasons. Think about that. She led Tennessee to 36 consecutive 20-win seasons, by far the most in NCAA history. Her legacy is still above Geno’s, although the gap is closing quickly.
Bradford: Legacy wise, I’ll give you that, but if we’re talking about strictly coaching greatness, then it’s important to note what Auriemma was walking into when he took the UConn job in 1985. Before his arrival, the program won 36 percent of its games and only once had a winning season. After Auriemma methodically built the program up, the Huskies have a resumé in 20 years that trumps Summitt’s 40 years. Since 1994, UConn has 16 Final Four appearances (Lady Vols have 18 all time). UConn failed to reach the Elite Eight only twice, it had a record-setting winning streak of 90 games and has a current winning streak of 75 games. The Huskies have gone undefeated six times. Tennessee did have the three-peat from 1996-1998, but the Huskies have two three-peats, including an unprecedented four-peat. Auriemma has done more in less time than Summitt, and if you give him a few more seasons, he’ll surpass Summitt’s win total and Final Four total.
Odom: The only thing is, David, legacy is the crucial point in debating which coaches are among the greatest of all time. As stated, I have tremendous respect for what Auriemma has done, but Summitt’s legacy still trumps his. She had to build the Tennessee program into greatness over perennial powerhouses like Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion and Stanford. Not only that, but the SEC used to produce major championship threats every year that Summitt’s teams had to beat multiple times. Auriemma hasn’t had to deal with that competition every year. After all of that, she still led Tennessee to 21 No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds (the most all-time).
Bradford: I disagree that Auriemma hasn’t had to deal with the same competition. It isn’t UConn’s fault they were moved to the AAC from the Big East, where they had to beat powerhouse programs such as Notre Dame and Louisville on a consistent basis. Just look at their schedule from this past season. They beat Ohio State, Maryland, Notre Dame and South Carolina all by double digits. But what we both can agree on is that Auriemma and Summitt are the top two coaches and there isn’t a right or wrong choice.
Featured image by Ryan McGill
Edited by Cody McClure