Like many states in this union, Connecticut is staring down the barrel of major budget cuts to its public education system. (Come to think of it, are there any states that aren't in this predicament?) UConn is not immune from these threats, and in fact the state legislature has passed a budget that includes more than $300 million in cuts to the state's flagship public university, which the governor has pledged to veto.
Still, the situation has devolved to the point where the university's public-relations arm is pushing forth a campaign with the hashtag #SaveUConn.
In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Huskies women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma blasted the state government and the anti-education strain of thought within the state, offering to work for free if it will help the school and its myriad of departments keep its doors open.
"This doesn't mean [UConn] shouldn't be free from cuts. That's unrealistic. We also don't have the massive endowments of University of Texas and Michigan. I'm just saying one of the first places people always look on a budget crisis is cutting education. Grade school. College. Bloated budgets! We're wasting money. That may be true in some cases. Even one of the legislators said, 'A lot of people up at UConn are getting paid a lot of money.' Like that's a mortal sin.
"I'll tell you what. I'll work for free next year. I'll give up what the state pays me, what the taxpayers are paying me, but guess what? I pay my taxes and I don't care how much money it costs for me to have good schools where I live in Manchester. My [adult] kids don't go to school there. I can afford it. I want to be proud of our town's education system. Why is it that older people turn their back on education when somebody paid for their kids when they were in school? We've lost sight of what we have to do for other people."
Auriemma isn't the first UConn coach to feel the heat as a highly-paid public employee. His reaction could not have been more different than former men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun's.
Of course, Auriemma can afford to take such stances. He's the most made man there is in college sports this side of Tuscaloosa. Auriemma is 63 years old, with 11 national championships, three Olympic gold medals and eight Naismith Coach of the Year awards. In fact, Auriemma has put together a Hall of Fame career only considering what he's accomplished after his 2006 induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, with six of those national titles, two of those gold medals and four of those coach of the year awards arriving after he was already enshrined. He's also quite rich, fresh off signing a 5-year, $13 million contract extension last year.
So, yes, Auriemma is on the short list of coaches who can tell his state legislature to shove it. But he's far from the only coach earning a large salary at a public university -- even if the lion's share of that salary comes from private funding -- in a state with a public education funding crisis. The next coach should start putting together his response to such coming inquiries now.