Associate head coach Chris Dailey initially did not anticipate staying at UConn for a long duration. Joining the women’s basketball program in 1985, she and head coach Geno Auriemma viewed it as a building block for their resume.
Twenty-six years have passed and Dailey still finds herself in Storrs with Auriemma. Together, they have been part of seven national championships, 11 Final Four appearances and 771 wins.
Dailey was honored today at the 8th Annual Sterling House Celebrity Breakfast at Vazzano’s Four Seasons for her contribution to the Huskies’ unimaginable success and for her impact on sports in Connecticut. Sterling House Community Center Senior Program & Athletic Director Bill O’Brien presented her with the Sterling Spirit Award, which pays tribute to those contributing to the positive spirit of sports in Connecticut.
“Each year it’s tough to pick somebody for that because we think it’s a very important and very special award,’’ O’Brien said. “And over the years she’s just been such an example of sportsmanship, really. She’s such a role model. It’s incredible the job they do with the girls, and I know she’s a big part of it. So, really, when we started thinking about names and who deserved it she was long overdue.’’
Dailey joins Auriemma (1998), former Fairfield women’s basketball coach Dianne Nolan (2000), U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey forward Julie Chu (2002) and former UConn football coach Randy Edsall (2010) as recipients of the award.
Dailey, who doubled as the guest speaker at the charitable event, entertained approximately 200 guests. She posed for pictures before and after and her story-telling of UConn’s visits to the White House provided many laughs.
“I always enjoy getting to meet people and the stories,’’ Dailey said. “It’s just a lot of fun for me.’’
The event raised an estimated $20,000. A basketball signed by the Huskies generated $950 during a live auction.
Sterling House is a multi-service community center that is dedicated to providing people of all ages with affordable social, educational and recreational activities that assist their positive and healthy development.
“I appreciate the fact that they appreciate what we did,’’ Dailey said. “And I think to help raise money for such a great cause is just an opportunity that you can’t pass up. I have a responsibility to do that.’’
Here is a major portion of Dailey’s address today. It equal part amusing and educational …
On the Huskies visits to the White House:
“When we came they had finished last in the Big East probably five years in a row so we figured we’ll go from the bottom to the middle and then we’re go somewhere really good,’’ Dailey said. “And 26 years later this has become the place that’s really good. We never would have thought that would’ve happened. Since that time I’ve had a chance to meet three different Presidents. Think about that, I never thought I’d meet one. And I’ve had a chance to meet three. Our first President was Bill Clinton. We met him in ’95. When he walked into the room he was as presidential as any of the three presidents that we’ve met. And I remember just going (wow) because he had such a presence. And he had a gift that … I probably spent maybe five seconds with him taking a picture, but you felt like you had his full attention. And it’s kind of interesting, each president gets to choose how they … Like all the choices that they get to make, they’re the most powerful man in the world. They get to choose how they honor the national champions. So President Clinton, he would have the men’s and women’s teams for basketball together. So we were there with the UCLA men in ’95. Then we move on to President Bush. He had four teams there. He had men’s and women’s ice hockey and then men’s and women’s basketball. So you didn’t really get as much individual time with them. But the first time we went (in 2002), you kind of stand around and do nothing for a long period of time waiting. And while we were there all the people run around and ask you questions. They must have come up and asked at least 50 times, `How do say Coach’s name?’ So this is going on for a good half-hour. So we finally wind up outside in the garden and one of the aides comes by and one last time, `How do you say his name?’ The President walks out and goes in front. And there’s contingents from each team. He talked about … Gary Williams was on Maryland and the two hockey coaches. And then he says, `And Coach Aureeeema.’ Then he said, `Did I get that right?’ And they said, ` No.’ He goes, `Well, however you pronounce his name he’s a hell of a coach.’ So then he goes through the rest of the thing and then you get to take a team picture with him. So he started down the other end and went to the ice hockey teams and then the men’s basketball and then he got to us. And I’m standing next to Geno … Now this is the President, and he shakes Geno’s hand and he goes, `Sorry I messed up your name.’ And Geno goes, `That’s alright. Don’t worry about it.’ And he goes. ‘I’m not.’ Here was Geno telling the President `don’t worry about it.’ Do you really think he’s going to worry about it? He’s going to Russia the next day.
“Then we got to meet President Obama the first time and that was two years ago. Now President Obama, he’s my favorite only because he takes only one team at a time. So we didn’t have to share because we had our own meeting with him and it was really awesome. Again, you wait around a lot. But you’re waiting in a room. They had us already in a line. Like a reception line and it was in the same order in which were going to take the picture. So we’re standing there and it’s the president of our university. President Obama comes in. Shakes hands with him and takes a picture. Then it’s our athletic director. (Obama) was really nice. Chit-chat and takes a picture. Then it’s Geno. Chit-chat and take a picture. And then it’s me. Chit-chat probably longer because he liked me better. And now it’s time for a picture. So it’s the President of the United States and we’re very excited about it. And you’re standing there and there was a man … He was the head of the board of trustees and his name his Jack Rowe. He was president of Aetna for awhile. That morning he had been on CNN. He was really a big shot. So I’m standing there next to President Obama and (Rowe) stands right next to me. And the whole time the only thing in my head is `He’s in my picture.’ So the President walks away and was tremendous with the girls. You can tell he’s around women a lot. That he has two daughters and a wife because he … `You look so lovely.’ And really nice. So while this is going on in my head all I’m thinking is that man is in my picture. So I’m thinking he’s the President of United States, you know how many pictures he takes a day? I’m going to go to the end of the line. He will never know that he took a picture with me already. So I go to the end of the line and Shea (Ralph) was at the end of the line. And I’m trying to explain to her and then she goes, `I don’t care as long as I get my picture.’ He shakes Shea’s hand. Takes her picture. Comes next to me. And I’m thinking this is perfect. All of a sudden Jamelle Elliott yells, `CD, you already had a picture.’ And then Renee Montgomery and Tina (Charles) … `CD!’ And I am standing there like this (her right hand extended) looking at the President of the United States going, `(Rowe) was in my picture.’ So he took another picture with me. It was a really nice one. And then I go back to my spot in line and I happen to see Jack Rowe and he looks at me and he goes, `I guess you didn’t want me in your picture?’’ So that was just a great experience. And that was the year he played basketball with the kids. Last year we got to meet Michelle Obama. And we are the only team that she’s ever come down to meet. And she really wanted to come down to meet our players. So that was very exciting for them.’’
On how program has become so successful:
“We’ve had opportunities that I would have never thought possible,’’ Dailey said. “Stories that I’ll be able to tell to people for a long time. And it’s all because … It’s funny … It’s games and it’s something that we work really hard at and we take seriously. But we also understand and we try to keep all of that in perspective. When people ask me about how did this happen. How did you do it? I, of course, say it’s all coaching. I’m referring to me. Not Geno. It really starts in your recruiting process. People think that we sit in our offices and everyone just comes toward our door and says, `Oh, I want to come to Connecticut.’ And, in part, some of that is true that I think there’s an interest because of what we’ve done. But the success of our program really starts in the recruiting process because to start there are fewer kids now that can physically help us. So the talent pool … Like when we started we were so bad you guys could’ve helped us. Now, 26 years later, there’s a smaller pool of kids out there that can physically help us. And then out of that group there’s even a smaller group that fit Connecticut. And by that I mean kids that want to be part of something bigger than themselves. We’re living in a society where it’s all about me, me, me, me, me. And that’s how kids are raised and that’s what they think about. Me, me, me, me. And it’s really difficult to go out and find those young people who want to be part of something bigger and they don’t care about `me.’ That they care about the group. That they care about other things. That the care about the people in the community. That they care about doing well in school. And that’s probably the toughest part is to find those players that fit that are good enough to help us, that fit our style of play and that want to be part of something as opposed to be the something and have all the attention. When you think back we’ve had players on our team that could’ve gone anywhere in the country. Whether it was Maya Moore, Diana (Taurasi), Tina, Renee, and they would’ve been `it.’ Allaboutme.com. That’s what it would’ve been. And they chose something different. They chose to be part of something that in the end provided them with everything they wanted to begin with … the success, the championships, the awards. All those things. But they did it in a way that I think is healthier. It’s a better way that you’re a part of something and you understand that you need your teammates and you need other people in order to be successful.’’
On whether UConn is different than other programs:
“People ask me what makes your program different,’’ Dailey said. “There are a lot of ways to be successful. And there are so many coaches and so many programs that are successful across the country. Just the way we do it is the way we do it. And two of the areas that I think are most important … The first area is we hold our players to a higher standard. We set high goals. We set high standards. And we ask them to achieve those. I think too often today we lower the bar. And I think people, in general, whether it’s in your business or you see it with your kids or in high school, they just achieve the bare minimum. And I often say to our kids, `Who wants to be average? Do you want to be average? No one wants to be average. Like if I ask you how does my hair look? If you said, `fine,’ I’d be mad because in my mind `fine’ is average. Who wants to have average? And I don’t think anyone wants to go through life being average. At least not the people who are highly motivated and want to do the other parts in their life. So we set a high standard and it starts with … We ask them to be different than every other college student. We ask them to go to class dressed appropriately. To go to class, eyes open, no headset, pay attention. When you meet people you look them in the eye. You shake hands with them. You say `hello.’ All those things. So we ask them to do the little things. And this hasn’t even touched basketball yet. These are the things that we ask them to do outside of basketball, that we think are really, really important and sets them apart in a positive way. Does it help us win games? I’m not sure. All I know is we’re trying to help them separate themselves so that in the future when they’re going for a job against someone else they separate themselves in that way too. So it starts very early on with that. Those are things that we try to teach them. And that’s even before we get on the court. Then when you add to the court … The only things we talk about are is our effort. We’re not going make shots every day. We talk about effort. How hard you have to work and how well you have to work together in order to have success. We have three little words on our board before every game and it’s play hard; play smart; have fun. And those are the things that we emphasize. We don’t say beat them by 40. Although, I’ll tell you next year when we play Notre Dame I’m going to tell them to beat them by 40. So those are the things that we talk about. We don’t talk about winning and losing. We don’t talk about those sorts of things. We talk about what is going to make us better as people, expectations and keeping the bar very, very high. Does that mean we’re going reach it every year? No. But certainly the process that you go through to reach it makes you a better person. Geno talked about it yesterday when we were at the state capitol. We win a lot, obviously. And how you handle winning is important and it says a lot about you. But what says more about our program and our players is how they handled losing this year. And I say that and my coaching friends say, `You lost twice. We’ve lost twice in the same day.’ But when we lose it’s such a big deal. When we lost at Stanford and it broke the streak I thought the way our players handled that said a lot more about them and our program then had we won a hundred games in a row. And the same thing after we lost to Notre Dame. Because not everybody handles that. And I feel really proud that our players understand that and handle that. And I think that’s only going to help them as they move forward.
“And then the second thing that we feel is really important is be responsible. You are responsible for all of your actions. So that when all good things happen to you you’re responsible for that. But when you make a bad decision you also are responsible for dealing with the consequences of making that choice. So it could be as easy as not studying as much as you needed to for a test or it could be … Sometimes college kids make bigger mistakes than that. And the difference is if our players do that it’s on the front page of the paper. And so we’re fortunate that we haven’t had any of those, but part of being at college is making mistakes and learning from them and growing up and taking responsibility and taking the next step in your life. We get them as young freshmen. We see them develop. We hopefully reinforce the values that their parents have already instilled in them. We keep them on that path and then we see them leave as adults, young adults better prepared to move on to the next part of their life. And that’s something that I take very seriously as my responsibility to help them do that. I’ve gotten texts from our former players who will say don’t ever stop doing what you do because it separates you guys from everybody else. They’re better prepared when they go to the WNBA. They’re better prepared when they move on in life. So those are probably the two things that we hold as a point … And they’re not rules. We don’t have a ton of rules. Our biggest role is don’t do anything that would embarrass you, your family, the university, your teammates or the program. And without being very specific that covers pretty much everything. So we’re able to put the responsibility on them. I often ask them, `What are your goals?’ And as soon as someone tells you what their goal is … `Well, I want to win a national championship.’ Well, then once they say it they’re giving me the power to help them do that. And I know how to do it because we’ve done it. So it’s a lot of different things that all come together that make us a little bit different.’’