John Shearer: Remembering Meeting The Pittsburgh Women’s Coach
Friday, March 20, 2015 - by John Shearer
Pitt head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio responds to a question at a press conference held Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Her Panthers will square off Saturday at 11 a.m. against the UTC Mocs in a first-round NCAA Tournament contest.
- photo by Dennis Norwood
Back in 2008, a sports editor at the Knoxville News Sentinel told me the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was looking for someone to cover and write a story about Suzie McConnell-Serio’s induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Every summer in Knoxville, that hall of fame inducts around 5 or 10 people who have influenced the women’s game greatly as either a player, coach, or official, and the inductees are treated royally for a couple of days. Knowing it was a big and worthwhile event, I was glad to cover it – and get paid.
That interesting experience all came back to me this week thinking about the NCAA women’s tournament getting ready to start in Knoxville.
To get some background on her back in 2008, I went over to the media availability session they had on Friday afternoon before the Saturday induction.
Only a handful of media people were there, and I was the only one who interviewed Coach McConnell-Serio as the inductees went to assigned spots in the hallway of the Hall of Fame building.
I remember thinking that she seemed almost a little shy and soft-spoken for a former star, who as a player had not let her 5-foot-4 height keep her from being a first-team all-American at Penn State and a 1988 Olympic gold medalist.
I explained to her that I actually lived in Knoxville and that the Pittsburgh paper had wanted someone to cover her induction. I interviewed her for five or 10 minutes and then left, thinking that this wife and mother of four was nice and polite.
At the time, she had just become the coach of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh after a successful high school and WNBA coaching career.
The next night, I attended the induction ceremony at the Bijou Theatre. When the time came for her acceptance speech, I remember that she seemed to have a sincere manner about her.
She was not joking around like some of the others, although she did say with a laugh that when then-Tennessee coach Pat Summitt called to tell her she had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, she initially thought Coach Summitt wanted to schedule a game. She told the crowd that she remembered thinking that would not be a good idea for her Duquesne team, as it would likely be a loss.
During one or two times during her speech, she choked back emotion. This included when she told the audience, “I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I have had.”
By the time she was finished with her brief acceptance speech, the hour was late and getting close to the deadline the Pittsburgh paper had passed along to me. Unfortunately, I did not bring a laptop computer with me, so I remember sprinting through the streets of downtown Knoxville at about 10 p.m. that Saturday heading to my car to rush back home to write and email the story.
After I called and alerted an editor that the story was coming, it made it in the Pittsburgh paper, although I remember never being able to find it online.
This weekend, Coach McConnell-Serio is returning to Knoxville. However, she is no longer the Duquesne coach, but is in her second year at Pittsburgh after building up Duquesne as she has other programs.
And her Pittsburgh team, which is assisted by her sister, Kathy McConnell-Miller, is playing none other than the UTC women on Saturday at 11 a.m., with the winner likely to get No. 2 seed Tennessee on Monday night.
With veteran coach Jim Foster of UTC on the other bench, it should make for an intriguing matchup. As I found out by looking at Coach McConnell-Serio's biography back in 2008 and again recently, both coaches have enjoyed a lot of success at a number of different places.
They both hope Knoxville is another one of those places.