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Geno Auriemma explains time away from UConn basketball

(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Geno Auriemma has missed four games this season for UConn women’s basketball. The legendary coach opened up Saturday about the reason behind his absences.

Auriemma’s mother died in early December. The grief from the loss, coupled with an illness, necessitated a break from the Huskies.

The grief hit him in different ways over the past five-plus weeks, he said Saturday. He lost his mother on Dec. 8 and later got “the flu or whatever it was that was going around our team,” which left him physically and mentally drained.

“I think when you go through something like that, you kind of talk yourself into thinking you’re quite prepared and rationally, you’re quite prepared,” he said. “You think that you can handle whatever’s coming next. But it’s like the delayed effect that happens.”

Auriemma said he was “supposed” to take a step away and rest for a “couple of weeks” but only did so for five days. The coach admits that his decision to return so soon “backfired.” He’s since regrouped, and he believes the time away also helped him shift his mindset toward life and coaching.

“It probably isn’t until you get home, you can’t lay down and close your eyes. You can’t sit there and do anything without that image popping into your head,” Auriemma said. “You try to fill it by going to work and doing things and you’re not really present. You’re not in the moment. So you’re not really doing anything to help the people on your team because your mind isn’t there and you’re not present.

“So then you’re mad, you’re really mad at yourself, because you can’t compartmentalize the two things, and then the team’s practicing and it’s not going good, then you take it out on them, when really they have nothing to do with it. It’s all because you personally don’t feel comfortable in your skin right now. And it just escalates and that was the sign that you have to walk away.”

Being able to step away and clear his mind allowed him to see that “nothing is as hard and nothing is as complicated as we make it.”

“There’s a very simple answer to most things,” he said. “You’ve just got to be willing to accept that you don’t have any control over that, you can’t dictate how it’s going to go. Once you realize that, I think it’s kind of liberating.”

“After all these years, believe it or not, I take every pass, every dribble, every cut, every box out, every single thing personally to heart, like I didn’t do a good enough job coaching, that I should have done a better job of teaching that box out, I should have done a better job of how to make that pass so we wouldn’t have 28 turnovers,” Auriemma continued. “It’s debilitating at times for coaches, and the only thing that I found to be truly liberating is you don’t have the ability to control it. And once you relinquish control of it, you do feel a sense of calm and peace.”

During Auriemma’s 35-plus years in Storrs as head coach of the Huskies, the team has won 11 national championships and 14 consecutive Final Four appearances. Still, Auriemma admitted that the time has taken its toll as he spent his time “thinking that if we don’t win the national championship I’m going to get fired, and that’s not a healthy way to live.”