Suzie McConnell-Serio had always dreamed of coaching at the highest level of women's college basketball but never thought it would happen because she had decided she was never going to leave Pittsburgh again, and she was pretty close to the highest level as Duquesne's women coach, anyway.
Sometimes, though, one can have it all, and Friday, when Ms. McConnell-Serio was named the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh women's basketball team, she sounded a lot like a person who couldn't believe her dream had come to fruition.
"I can't tell you how excited I am and incredibly grateful to [athletic director] Steve Pederson and chancellor [Mark] Nordenberg for this incredible opportunity," she said.
"I am a Pittsburgh girl through and through, and I told Steve that I probably would have never left Duquesne for any other job other than this job because this is my home."
Ms. McConnell-Serio said she is so serious about wanting to stay in town that she pushed Mr. Pederson for a six-year contract -- as opposed to the five-year contract he initially offered -- because she wanted to make it clear she has arrived at a place she will never have to leave.
"This will be my last job, I don't want to go anywhere else," she said. "And I will be here as long as [Pederson] wants me to be here and allows me to coach this team."
Although the tone of the news conference was celebratory and Ms. McConnell-Serio was obviously extremely pleased that she was getting the chance to lead an Atlantic Coast Conference program, it was also clear that leaving Duquesne was not easy for her.
"I am not at all mad at Pitt or whatever, it is a part of the business and a part of the reality of, when you have a really successful coach, other people want to hire her," Duquesne athletic director Greg Amodio said. "I know it was a tough decision for Suzie ...
"But the Pitt job offers the challenge of the ACC. That is a challenge to go against some of the best teams and coaches in the country and the competitor in Suzie, she needed to go take on that challenge."
Competitive spirit, drive and winner's mentality is what has carried Ms. McConnell-Serio, a former point guard and a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, to this point in her career. It began back in the early 1980s when she was a four-year starter at Seton-La Salle High School and led the Lady Rebels to a 35-1 record and a PIAA championship as a senior.
From there she went to become a star at Penn State -- a fact that prompted Mr. Pederson to quip "despite her questionable choice of college ..." -- as she set NCAA Division I records for career assists (1,307) and assists in a season (355) and led the Lady Lions to four NCAA berths and a 95-33 record.
She was named an All-American twice and was the 1988 recipient of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, which is given to the nation's best senior player shorter than 5 feet 8 inches.
She also won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team in the 1988 Games and a bronze on the team in the 1992 Olympic team and won three other international medals playing for the United States and she was a member of the USA women's staff for the 2011 World University games.
She was drafted in the second round of the 1998 WNBA draft by the Cleveland Rockers and played three seasons with the team. She was named the first-team All-WNBA as well as the WNBA newcomer of the year in 1998.
Prior to taking over at Duquesne, where she had a record of 123-68 and led the Dukes to five consecutive 20-win seasons and five consecutive postseason berths -- something that had never happened -- she was the head coach of the Minnesota Lynx from 2003-06 (she was WNBA coach of the year in 2004 and led them to a franchise record 18 wins and their first playoff berth that year as well) and she had a highly successful run as the head coach at Oakland Catholic as well.
"I don't know anyone who wouldn't want to play for her, she pushes you to be the best you can be and then some," said Shannon Boyle, the head coach at Oakland Catholic and a former player under Ms. McConnell-Serio. "But forget the Xs and Os -- she obviously knows that -- what makes her special is her spirit, that competitive spirit, and her ability to make it contagious."
Ms. McConnell-Serio faces a challenge at Pitt.
The program had reached its peak in the period from 2006-09 under former coach Agnus Berenato as the Panthers went to three consecutive NCAA tournaments and advanced to back-to-back Sweet 16s.
Then in 2009-10 the Panthers took a step back, although they still played in the WNIT, but the past two seasons they have failed to win a Big East game, and as a result Ms. Berenato was fired.
Ms. McConnell-Serio, whose Duquesne teams had won the past four games against Pitt, said obviously recruiting is a huge part of rebuilding a program -- but the first step for her and her staff is to identify players already on the roster, figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and then build a system that puts them in position to succeed.
Ms. McConnell-Serio said she will get started immediately in recruiting and also watching film of the other ACC teams, but she is most excited about working with the players because she believes there is enough talent on the roster to be competitive next season.
One item she quickly got out of the way is the hiring of a new staff as she announced that her assistants Dan Burt, Carmen Bruce, Lindsay Richards and Lauren Reinshuttle are all coming with her from Duquesne to Pitt.
Ms. McConnell-Serio comes from a coaching family. Her sister Kathy coached at Tulsa and Colorado, her brother Tom coached at St. Francis, her brother Mike is a Division I official but used to coach at Carlynton High School and his wife, Sherri, is the head girls coach at North Allegheny and her brother Tim is the head boys coach at Chartiers Valley.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published April 12, 2013 2:45 PM