Geno Auriemma never intended to coach the 2016 Olympic women’s basketball team. Now that he’s led it to a second gold medal, part of six straight for Team USA, it seems highly likely he won’t return for a third.
Even as the final notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” sounded Saturday, the question was already looming. Who will be the next to take the reins of the best team on the planet, which has now won 49 straight Olympic matchups and will try for its seventh consecutive gold in Tokyo in 2020?
The answer was a couple of seats over.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was one of three assistants for Auriemma this summer, and is a natural successor to coach Team USA. Of the Americans’ six consecutive golds, Staley has been a part of five; and she’s made it clear she would never decline any chance to serve her country.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“For me, I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to do it,” Staley told The State newspaper before she left for Rio. “If I’m ever honored in that way, it wouldn’t take me long to decide.”
Staley has spent more than half her life with USA basketball. She was a player on nearly every American team from 1989-2004. She won three Olympic golds during that time, capped in 2004 when she was chosen by her teammates – that’s every U.S. Olympian team captain, not just the basketball team – to carry the American flag in the opening ceremony.
A Naismith Hall-of-Famer, Staley also was an assistant coach in the 2008 games (gold medal) and head coach for the 2007 Pan Am Games (gold medal), the 2014 under-18 world championships (gold medal) and the 2015 under-19 world championships (gold medal).
See the trend?
The decision might take a couple of years, but that’s all on the Olympic committee. I’m certain if Staley was asked to do it the minute Auriemma says he’s not coming back for 2020, she’d hand the committee a tentative roster and exhibition schedule.
There would be no ego, no personal preferences or arrogance on how to build the team, either. Staley would take into account the ultimate mission of USA basketball and accept the 12 best players who say yes.
“Gold or bust,” Staley described. “In my first Olympic games, the only thing I heard was gold or failure. The players know exactly what’s at stake. That’s why they understand that they don’t bring anything other than a selflessness about winning basketball games.”
I’m sure there will be a lengthy waiting period as the committee says they’ll vet several candidates and then extend an invitation to one. I say it’s an easy and logical choice – Dawn Staley knows how to win gold, has done it several times and just spent the summer helping yet another first prize come stateside.
All they have to do is ask.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState
Dawn Staley’s Olympic record
*Coaches do not receive actual medals