Russo enjoys success for over 30 years

Brandon Wise/ Asst. Sports Director

brandon.wise@fiusm.com

Head Coach Cindy Russo never set out to be the ninth winningest coach in basketball history. She also never set out to stay at FIU for over 30 years. She just knew that she wanted to be in South Florida.

“I was never a goal setter. I never thought to myself ‘okay, I’m going to go out there today and break all these records,’” Russo said. “I just go out there everyday and try to do the best I can and give it all I can.”

Russo came to FIU in 1977, coming over from Old Dominion, her alma mater. Since arriving in ‘77, Russo brought the program from the basement of college basketball all the way to its highest peak. In 1993, her Panthers went 25-4 and reached its first ever NCAA Tournament. The following year, the Panthers were ranked as high as 16th in the nation before the season began. She has fond memories of that season.

“We went into those games expecting to win,” Russo said. “I look back now and say ‘Oh did we?’ We just expected to win those games.”

Russo is a member of an elite group, that only 34 coaches can say they are members of in the history of the game. She has accrued over 600 wins in her career as acoach, all with FIU. She has also had 17 seasons where her team won at least 20-games.

“The grass was never really greener, I didn’t want to go parallel,” Russo said. “All of a sudden, I look back and ‘wow’, I’m 27 years into this. I don’t want to leave now.”

Coaches cannot coach forever, but but there is no way she is ready to leave just yet.

“I’ve got at least four years after this one,” Russo said. “I’d like to think that I can go out on my own time.”

This year’s team is well-aware of their coach’s success, some choosing to come to FIU just because of it.

“I like the connection part,” Carmen Miloglav, junior guard, said. “Some coaches just do their job on the court and leave, but she’s not one of them. She will call us a lot before the games, trying to calm us down.”

Russo has also been able to coach one of the top talents in the nation this year, Jerica Coley.

“[Coley] is the best player I have ever coached,” Russo said. “ You tell her to do something and she says ‘Okay’ and goes out there and does it. She is very coachable.”

Coley chose to come to FIU because of the experience that Russo had along with the atmosphere of the program.

“I knew she had a lot of experience and that she coached a few players that had done good things in basketball.” Coley, the second-leading scorer in the nation, said.

“The staff was very inviting, just the atmosphere that the coaches had was very positive and part of the reason why I came here.”

Fanni Hutlassa, a redshirt senior, has been around Russo the most out of anyone on the team. She knows that Russo knows what she’s doing.

“I’ve been here for five years and I know her pretty well,” Hutlassa said. “She’s an all around coach, taking care of school, basketball and our health. As a coach, she’s been here for 30 something years and she has a lot of experience. For a really serious game, she is going to have her coaches, us and herself very prepared.”

Coaching has become so competitive that Russo has noticed a lot of changes through the years with the level of stress that all coaches display on the sidelines.

“You flip on the television to watch a game, and every coach is not having fun during a game,” Russo said. “They are just majorly stressed out and I can tell you, I am too. You see your coaches and players more than anyone else in your life.”

Russo also wants her coaches to know that time with family is more important.

“I’m constantly saying to [the staff], ‘stay home today, stay home with your children.’ They are all just so dedicated and want to win.”

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