UConn football begins next chapter with same old story

Paul Pasqualoni is the perfect fit for UConn football.

And that's the problem with hiring him as the Huskies' new head coach.

After 12 seasons under Randy Edsall, the program has seemingly topped out. Powered by arguably their most talented roster ever, the Huskies finished this past season a respectable 8-5, clinched their first BCS bowl game and won their first legitimate Big East title.

It was a banner year for UConn football.

And yet, that's what's so troubling.

Although the end result conveys progress, the means are still as tired as ever. The Huskies still require a combination of sound defense, make-no-mistakes offense and luck to succeed; still face a serious disadvantage in the recruiting game; and still cease to matter on a national level. In fact, the Fiesta bowl berth, lauded by the school as a beacon of achievement and forward movement, encapsulates all that's wrong with the program, as it's more a victory of circumstance (i.e., terrible competition) than any display of athletic brilliance.

Fair or not, we want more.

Or, at the very least, we want the program to want more.

But instead of searching for someone to bring excitement into a team routinely beaten on for its lack of innovation, someone to take the program to the next step, someone different, athletic director Jeff Hathaway tabbed a coach whose greatest attribute is consistency, and one who was ultimately expunged from Syracuse for his inability to reach that next step.

Now was the time to take a risk. Instead, Hathaway predictably stuck to the script.

The script has worked quite well so far. Twelve years ago, when Edsall first took the position, the Huskies were an A-10 also-ran playing in a 16,000-seat stadium that Edsall himself had to shovel. Regardless of all the issues that haunted the team in the time since, that same program is now winning Big East championships and playing in elite bowl games in 60,000-seat domed arenas. 

The fruits of all the time and labor have proven, to Hathaway at least, that the formula works. So why risk ruining what it has accomplished now?

And in that sense, Pasqualoni is a solid hire.

Coach P won nine or more games seven times through his first 10 seasons with the Orange, bringing them to two major bowl games in the process. Like Edsall, he has ties (perhaps greater ones) to the NFL, having recently finished stints as defensive coordinator for both the Dolphins and Cowboys. And while Connecticut isn't a hotbed for recruiting, his ties to the state -- which may have gotten him the job -- could help the Huskies mine the few top recruits it does produce; Jordan Reed or Aaron Hernandez might be just another cog in the machine at an elite-level school, but they could be difference-makers in the Big East.

And while his age (61) and time away from the college game (he noted at his press conference today that he had to become re-certified as a college recruiter ... and I don't think he was joking) are major concerns, the positives Pasqualoni brings to the table -- which include the most photogenic visage in football -- should at least provide him the benefit of the doubt.

Hathaway, it seems, has found a near-perfect replacement to pick up where Edsall left off.

And that's what I find most troubling about this decision.

Not that Pasqualoni himself can't or won't be a good coach (in fact, the more time goes by, the more I talk myself into it). But that he doesn't appear to be anything more than that.

Sometimes, the prospect of greatness is more alluring than actual greatness, and it's certainly more appealing than complacency. And instead of finding a candidate that could illicit possibilities and hope, Pasqualoni offers a very finite ceiling.

No more dreams of the spread or an exciting offense that could rack up points and make the late-arriving Rent crowd unable to miss a down. No real hope that one day the relatively meaningless football team from Cow Town could matter nationally. No endless possibilities. No change.

The issue isn't really Pasqualoni himself, but what he represents. So your reaction to the hire becomes less about the new coach himself, and more about your personal views of the football program. If you're a more-rational fan who understands the obstacles that UConn, 11 seasons removed from Division I-AA, has in reaching the next level, then you're probably OK with this hire. But if you dare to dream like Olivia Newton-John, then this decision probably doesn't sit too well.

Hathaway clearly fits the former. And maybe we're better off because of it.

Maybe there isn't a next step for UConn football. Given all that's stacked up against it, maybe 8-5 and a BCS bowl is the most we can ask of a team stuck in Storrs, Conn., with a poor recruiting base and with virtually no past or legacy. Hathaway is paid to make rational decisions, not chase dreams. And playing it safe with Pasqualoni gives the program a good chance at continuing the slow climb it has been on since entering the Big East.

But he had the chance to at least try to make it so much more.

Hathaway walked up to the craps table with a fist full of cash and went home.

Despite all that's been accomplished thus far, and especially this past season, until he's willing to roll the dice, UConn can never make any real progress.

Can't win if you don't play, Jeff.

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