Coaching college basketball was never the plan for Chris Dailey. Coaching itself always was, but it was never supposed to be her primary job.
Dailey originally wanted to be a teacher.
“I was always going to coach and teach high school until my senior year of college when I had my six weeks of student teaching in the high school and I hated every second of it,” Dailey said. “After college I got an offer to coach at Cornell and I thought ‘Alright it’s the same amount of money so let me see what it’s like’ and I never looked back.”
Now, after 35 years, 991 wins and 11 national championships later as UConn’s associate head coach, Dailey is being honored with the Margo Dydek Award for a Woman of Inspiration at halftime of the Connecticut Sun game on Tuesday.
While Dailey is appreciative of the award, awards aren’t the reason she got into coaching. Basketball was simply another classroom for her to teach in.
“I’m a teacher. So every time you see a player have that ‘A-ha!’ moment, when they get what you’re doing on the court, when they get what you’re telling them, it’s why you teach.”
Teaching is the foundation of Dailey’s job, both on and off the court. While her coaching on the court has been key to the success of the program, her lessons off the court that are the key to the success of the person.
“She really has your best interests [in mind],” junior Katie Lou Samuelson said. “She’s gonna say it to you straight if you’re veering off or if you’re not putting your best image forward. If she thinks you’re putting something on your social media or something that doesn’t represent you in the right way, she does it specifically to make sure you’re going on the right path.”
“I think it’s been well-documented over the years how much CD has done for Connecticut basketball,” noted Geno Auriemma. “Not just in winning and losing but how she affects our players on the court and off the court and the example that she sets for other players.”
Dailey’s methods have endeared herself to many former Huskies, including Diana Taurasi.
“She made me a respectable human being,” Taurasi said. “When you’re around CD, there’s a certain way to live life and I didn’t understand it at the time when I was at school. But now that I look back on it, I learned just as much about life as I did basketball with her and every time I see her I make sure to thank her for that.”
As for her current players? That appreciation will come a little later on.
“I think when you’re here I’m a lot more annoying,” Dailey said. “Then [later] you get it, kind of like your parents. When you’re older you appreciate what they were trying to do.”
There’s no question Dailey knows how to unlock a player’s potential. But to do so, regardless of talent, stats or ability, you need respect and growth.
“I don’t think you can be successful without respect. You have to respect yourself, you have to respect others, you have to respect hard work, you have to respect your environment,” she said.
As for growth, one could argue that it’s hard for Dailey to grow in the shadow of the greatest women’s basketball coach of all-time. However, she doesn’t see that way.
“I think I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a person,” Dailey said. “You couldn't be good at what you do if you don’t grow. I wouldn’t left a long time ago if I felt stagnant as a coach or person; There would be no reason to stay. But every year is different and every year we get challenged and every day we challenge ourselves.
“That’s what makes it easy to stay here.”
Over the past 30 years, despite numerous head coaching offers and opportunities to build her own unique legacy, Dailey stayed. While those jobs might have had more money, more attention, more glory, that’s not her motivation. In the end, she ended up doing what she always planned to do: Teach.