Dom Amore: Trinity’s Paul Assaiante retires with a legacy of winning, caring, XL spruce up could be coming, and more in Sunday Read
Paul Assaiante was on a treadmill recently, glanced to one side and grew worried about the guy next to him.
“My eyesight’s not that good,” he said. “And I looked over and said, ‘Holy Cow, that person should not be on a treadmill.’ … And then I realized it was a mirror.”
Assaiante, 70, was self-effacing. His point was, after 30 years as the most successful coach in the history of his sport, collegiate squash, and in fact one of the winningest coaches in any sport, he knew it was time to step aside. After leading Trinity within one point of yet another national title, Assaiante announced Thursday he was retiring.
Dom Amore: Jim Calhoun’s thoughts on friend and rival Jim Boeheim, a short-term answer for UHart, and more in the Sunday Read
“I didn’t want to be the person sitting there, drooling on himself at the desk,” Assaiante said. “And people walking by saying, ‘He’s a nice guy, so let’s let him do it on his terms.’ Because my body is sort of giving out, I’m blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, I kept feeling that these wonderful young men who come to the office just deserve someone a little more vital and energized than I was able to be. It was time for a younger fanny to be in my seat.”
So these were Assaiante’s terms. He will stay on at Trinity and help AD Drew Galbraith in a variety of ways, be a sounding board for coaches and athletes and be present if a recruit wants to stop by and meet him. And he will soon add another book to the two he is already written, in which he will express his concerns about the direction of college athletics. It’s working title is “What’s The Point?”
For Assaiante, the points were winning and building lifelong relationships and he succeeded magnificently at both. After coaching at Williams and Army, he settled at Trinity and retires, after a 5-4 loss to Harvard in the Potter Cup Final on Feb. 26, with a record of 507-29, with 17 national titles, having coached 47 All-Americans. From 1998-2012, Assaiante and Trinity won 252 consecutive matches, the longest winning streak in college sports history.
The streak brought international attention to Trinity and squash, and helped make the sport more competitive.
“That’s a ridiculous streak,” Assaiante said. “That should never happen. What’s the deal there? Other people weren’t paying attention. All they needed to do was say, ‘What is their secret sauce? Oh, we can do that. As a matter of fact, we can do that better than them.’ And now that’s what’s happening. We were fortunate to raise the bar, and I didn’t want us to fade away, and we stayed at that level. We raised the bar, and they cleared the bar, and isn’t that great?”
Assaiante has also coached tennis at Trinity (record: 188-97) and helped raise the money for major upgrades in athletic facilities. He’s a motivational speaker, and his ideas about coaching are widely respected. Bill Belichick is an admirer, for instance, and texted him one word, “Wow,” when Assaiante’s retirement was announced.
“I sent back an email saying, ‘I held out as long as I could, but I figured rather than following you I needed to lead the transition,'” Assaiante said. “We’re all in this game together.”
When Assaiante, a 1974 Springfield College grad, began coaching at Army, he read a quote from General Douglas MacArthur. “On the friendly fields of strife are sewn the seeds that on later fields bear the fruits of victory.”
Assaiante said the words on the plaque became the framework of his career, a career that impacted countless lives. In retiring now, Assaiante simply stayed true to his belief that the best interests of a team come first.
Dom Amore: It was shaky for a while, but UConn issues statement, breathes sigh of relief with second-half revival
“What you learn on the athletic fields is how to be a better person,” he said. “I hope [my players] know that I genuinely loved them. That’s a funny word, ‘love.’ On our campus, if I see a kid 10 times a day, I hug him 10 times a day. I want them to know that I was always there for them, even long after they graduate. I was going to challenge them and would never accept less than everything they had, because that’s how life is supposed to be lived.”
Benedict on XL renovation
News this week that the Capital Region Development Authority will come up with a dollar figure for renovating the XL Center, which could break the long legislative deadlock and get things started, met with approval from UConn AD David Benedict, who hopes the project can now be “pushed over the finish line.”
New plan calls for major, $100 million renovation of Hartford’s XL Center arena. Will it happen this time?
“… The facility is something the city of Hartford needs,” Benedict said Friday before the UConn men’s basketball team’s first-round NCAA Tournament game, “but it has got to be renovated and they’ve got to have more events there. Renovation is a must. I don’t think the facility can continue on in its current state. Nothing is going to change if there is no investment in it. If we’re going to continue to play there, we want it to be a really, really nice facility for our fans as well as our student-athletes, so because of that we want them to be successful in their efforts.”
Sunday short takes
* Former UConn ace Anthony Kay continues to impress with the Cubs in spring training, throwing in the high 90s. Five games, five innings, three hits, one run, one walk and eight strikeouts.
* UConn baseball (10-5) has been crushing the Florida, California and Hawaii portion of its schedule and is well positioned, top 10 in RPI, for the home and conference schedule and beyond.
* UConn football added another notable player in state, getting a commitment last week from Jake Kiernan, all-state offensive lineman from Class LL champ Greenwich.
* Not that it’s a surprise, but does Jay Wright look like he was born in a TV studio or what?
* A foursome representing Tallwood CC in Hebron won the 36th Caribbean International Pro-Am Championship at the Casa de Campo Golf Resort in the Dominican Republic on March 5 with a gross score of 19-under. PGA pro John Nowobilski of Mancheter, Rob Tedoldi Jr. of South Windsor, Mike Thompson of Lebanon and Omnia Fowler of Greensboro, N.C. share the trophy. Good time for Scotch and cigars, fellas.
* Tom Penders, the college basketball Hall of Famer and UConn grad, took a social media shot at North Carolina for passing on the NIT. “ARROGANCE!” Penders Tweeted this week. “UNC should get fined big bucks! The NCAA basketball committee should remember this slap in the face. The NIT started before the NCAA tournament.” True, the NIT isn’t what it was in decades gone by, but even for a blueblood like North Carolina, it’s not a good look to snub what is now an NCAA-run tournament. Why not take the opportunity to get more practices in and play young players?
* Update: Geno Auriemma never had to choose between using his Bruce Springsteen tickets and spending Selection Sunday with his team. Last Sunday’s concert at Mohegan Sun was postponed due to illness, as was his concert in Albany this week. When they reschedule, maybe they should bounce a few dates off Auriemma, just sayin.’
The World Baseball Classic, which I spell out because if I wrote ‘WBC,’ you might confuse it with another failed bank, is an idea whose time has gone. Easy to say now, with Edwin Diaz’s devastating, season-ending knee injury, but this has been brewing with me for a while. The event is too contrived.
Injuries can happen any time, but spring training is a necessary occupational hazard. Trying to ramp up too quickly to play these games in March created a new, and unnecessary hazard. Does anyone remember any result or play from a WBC, past or present? Are players really representing their heritage when playing for a country in which they may never have set foot?
No, it’s time to get rid of it or stage it with free agents looking to land a team, like Matt Harvey, or recently retired major leaguers, like Adam Wainwright. It’s nice to promote the game globally and the event obviously has some appeal outside the U.S., but not at the cost, in this case, of robbing U.S, and especially Mets fans of a whole season of the excitement Diaz generates. And who is to say he will ever be the same after this torn patellar tendon heals?