Suzie McConnell Serio Returns Back to the Future
PHILADELPHIA _ The voice from the other end of the state (Pennsylvania for you geographically-challenged readers) sounded as energetic as the way Suzie McConnell Serio played the game for four years at Penn State and later on in the Olympics and in the WNBA.
"Well, it looks like I've come back to right where I started," McConnell Serio said from Pittsburgh several hours after being officially introduced as the new women's basketball coach of Duquesne.
In the late 1980s, McConnell Serio, a native of Pittsburgh, was the leading force in the old Atlantic Ten Conference wars when the Nittany Lions held membership and had a major rivalry with Rutgers, which was also a prominent conference power.
It seems like yesterday when she was just a freshman that McConnell Serio would grab the microphone in the postgame press conferences and sound like she was the one who had just coached against the opposition.
And now she's back, making her debut in the collegiate game, aspiring to move the Dukes up the ladder to competition in the conference with George Washington, Temple, Xavier, St. Joseph's, and Charlotte, who were the top five in no particular order this past season.
``It's a great opportunity and it's exciting to be involved at the collegiate level,'' McConnell Serio said. She had said several months ago she was considering such a career move.
Ironically, the former Penn State star follows Dan Durkin, a native of Philadelphia who had been with the program for 14 years before resigning last month.
He joined Penn State as an assistant coach in McConnell Serio's sophomore year.
The former point guard was busy Thursday night trying to put a staff together.
``I've been getting calls and I'm making a few,'' she said.
Of course, the question that had to be asked was whether there had been any conversation with officials at her alma mater about the vacant coaching slot after Rene Portland's departure last month. McConnell Serio was made the instant frontrunner by observers, although some reports indicate Penn State officials in charge of the search want a clean break from the previous regime in terms of assistants and former players.
The job qualifications also called for five years of college experience, which McConnell Serio obviously does not have. The description reminds of the time the late President Lyndon Johnson decided that no members of his cabinet should be on the campaign ticket running as a vice president -- a move that ruled out the only one who mattered: Attorney general Bobby Kennedy, the brother of the then-recently slain president John F. Kennedy.
``There was some discussion, but this seemed like a better fit,'' McConnell Serio said of Duquesne, located in her native city. Her hire means she won't have to uproot the family and move somewhere else.
To an extent, Duquesne's move, which seemed like a no-brainer at the outset, is similar to what Temple did in 2000 when it hired Dawn Staley, here, who had deep ties to her native city.
Staley, though, had no coaching experience. McConnell Serio has already coached in the WNBA as recently as last summer when she resigned late in the season when the Minnesota Lynx faded from the playoff race.
McConnell Serio is the second former WNBA coach to join the college ranks this week. Two days ago, former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor rejoined the collegiate world in taking the lucrative Louisiana State job. He had coached Mississippi in the Southeastern Conference prior to his move to the WNBA
Chancellor was recently announced as an inductee to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He led the Comets to the first four WNBA titles and also coached the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal at the Athens Games in Greece in 2004.
It was suggested to McConnell Serio that maybe Duquesne should host a flip-flop tournament with Temple and Duquesne of the Atlantic Ten meeting LSU and Hartford, which is coached by former Connecticut and WNBA star Jen Rizzotti.
``Yeah, but I'm the only one who did both (coach and play) in the WNBA,'' McConnell Serio laughed.
Prior to her involvement with Minnesota, she was a successful coach of Oakland Catholic in Pittsburgh, winning several high school state titles.
Thus McConnell Serio already knows the rich high school system in Western Pennsylvania, as well as areas elsewhere in the state.
The new Duquesne coach has also acquired broadcast experience having done color commentary of Big Ten Conference women's games.
Meanwhile, nothing has stirred out of Happy Valley regarding the Penn State vacancy.
Rutgers assistant Marianne Stanley's name has been mentioned on internet discussions but she said earlier this week she had not been approached. She did not say whether she had any interest.
Perhaps Penn State might want to consider if any exists by holding at least an exploratory conversation, unless a top candidate has privately emerged. Some sources with connection to the committee believe that might be so, although a name or names, as mentioned, are not known.
Chris Dailey, the top aide to Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, has also been speculated but one Huskies staffer said she had been in Storrs all week.
Perhaps, longtime assistant Tonya Cardonza could be worth an interview if PSU wants to go in a different direction.
Penn State is already behind in the next recruiting race considering the popular Boo Williams AAU tournament in Hampton, Va., is being held this weekend and most of the nation's coaches will be on the scene observing future talent for their perspective programs.
In fact, a source over in Italy reported early Friday morning Eastern U.S. time that Staley and new Texas coach Gail Goestenkors have left the tourning USA Basketball contingent and were heading back to Stateside to attend the recruiting showcase events.