The face of derp at UConn.
Fortunately, this URL appears ready for hire.
Because after a buzz-killing 2-3 start to the new era in UConn football, the question is already beginning to bubble: Should the Huskies part ways with Paul Pasqualoni?
Five games is far too few to begin lighting the torches, but in that short stint as UConn head coach, the program's second in its BCS infancy, Pasqualoni has already shown glimpses of the nightmares most fans instantly conjured up upon his hiring some nine months ago.
In five games against one of the softest non-conference schedules for any BCS team, the Huskies have just two victories -- at home against a now-1-3 Fordham team from the FCS' Patriot League, and a closer-than-it-looks 17-3 win at 1-4 Buffalo.
In five games, the vertically challenge "new" offense has sunk to new lows, currently ranking No. 92 in the nation in total offense, No. 112 in third-down conversions, No. 86 in the nation in scoring offense, No. 76 in the nation in passing offense, No. 110 in the nation in passing yards, and No. 84 in the nation in rushing offense -- a particularly frightening number given that UConn finished in the top 40 in rushing the previous three seasons.
And in five games, even the defense, the heart of the program in the Randy Edsall era and a unit that returned nine starters, hasn't exactly been up to task. Although the Huskies currently rank 30th in total defense, they were air-raided for 479 passing yards by middling MAC program Western Michigan.
However, Edsall wasn't exactly racking up the yards on offense, either. In fact, UConn is actually averaging 17 more yards a game -- a stat, it's worth noting, that should be taken with a few liters of salt, given its cakey competition thus far -- than when the Fiesta Bowl-participating Huskies put up 326 a game (95th in the nation) in 2010.
Still, under Edsall, things somehow (usually) went right. Whether it be through a defensive touchdown, a punt return, an interception, a blocked kick -- anything that didn't involve the offense, really -- UConn managed to find its way; that the program was able to make its first BCS with a 95th-ranked offense is a tribute to that.
But under Coach P, the Huskies haven't exactly had the golden touch. To wit:
- The team has spent the bulk of its first five games rotating three quarterbacks, but it really has none. Not because that's how the saying goes. The Huskies do not have quarterback on the roster who should be starting for a Division-IA team. In addition to the relatively fertile recruiting grounds, the opportunity to not work for Jeff Hathaway and the chance to live his dream, I'm slowly becoming convinced that Edsall bolted to avoid trying to eke out wins with such dearth at QB (thus ruining the precious forward momentum he'd built in Storrs over his 12 seasons; and if the team struggled in his absence, surely articles like this would point out how his UConn teams managed to find a way with meager recruiting means).
- Even the running game has been hit hard. While a sizable, veteran line remains relatively intact (aside from some shuffling a few games back and the loss of Jimmy Bennett -- again), the program seems to be out of superheroes at running back. Lyle McCombs has been better than expected, but expected starter D.J. Shoemate has become the Steven Jackson of Storrs and will miss the rest of what could be his final collegiate season.
- Two of the defense's best players have been hobbled. Sack-master-in-training Jesse Joseph has missed three games and has yet to record a QB takedown, and elite cover corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson has recently been seen on crutches instead of keeping stride with teams' best receivers.
- The kicking game has lost its magic. In debating UConn's place in our preseason Big East Rankings preseason ballot, Meacham and I switched roles like we were in a zany Matthew Perry family comedy. I was the optimist, figuring that the team's makeup was just a slightly worse version of the formula it had used for success the past half-decade (defense, ball-control offense, strong special teams). Meacham, however, cautioned that several things went miraculously right last season, and that such magic would be hard to replicate.
He may have been on to something. After nailing 81 percent of his field goal attempts last season, including several big end-of-season kicks, Dave Teggart is just 6-for-10 so far (disclaimer: small sample size, etc.).
- On a similar vein, the return game also hasn't been so special. After finishing third nationally in kickoff returns, the Huskies have returned to Earth, to a still-pretty-good 21.5 yards per return (57th overall). The difference is less than six yards, but six yards is huge for one that averages just over 7 per pass attempt.
Throw in the fact that two narrow defeats have come at the hands of major-conference opponents that may be (but probably aren't) better than usual this season, and you hardly have enough offenses to merit a firing. No matter how much mega football donor/tyrant Bobby Burton wants to say I told ya so.
But that doesn't mean Pasqualoni shouldn't be fired.
In most cases, this is where I would preach patience. Coach P hasn't brought in a single recruiting class, let alone four years' worth, which is how long I believe each coach should get (barring altercations with assistants and sexual discrimination claims, of course); if you're willing to shell out the cash when you hire him, at least give the guy a shot with his own players, I say.
But what UConn doesn't have now is time.
With the school's lust for the ACC clear to anyone who has checked in on the Conference Apocalypse over the past month, the football program is under a comically large microscope these days. And so far, Pasqualoni has done little to assure the folks down south that the Huskies are ready to take a step up to the next level of BCS ball. Money, of course, is the deciding factor in the Huskies' hopes for an ACC-affiliated life-preserver, so the university's ties to the New York market are likely far more important than how well the football team moves the chains. But with football-driven schools like Florida State and Clemson rumored to only want schools that bring with them competitive football programs to avoid dragging down a conference already watered down by the likes of Boston College and Duke, a 2-3 start certainly isn't helping UConn's cause.
Backing Pasqualoni now would also serve as an admission that he should have been hired to begin with.
As noted in this cyberspace days after he was hired, Coach P was the safe play, a coach cut from the same boring, old, Edsall hand-me-down sweater. With a chance to make a big splash and really make an effort to take the next step, Jeff Hathaway stuck to the script, hiring a coach most known for consistency than excellence. We asked for the moon and the stars, and Hathaway pointed us to one of those websites where you can pay $50 to name a star that may not actually exist. He even recycled virtually every assistant coach from the previous regime, keeping Hank Hughes, Matt Cersosimo, Mike Foley, Joe Moorhead, Darrell Perkins and Joe Wholley on staff, likely to avoid having to pay for new ones. (Which is likely why we ended up with a 62-year-old coach who had been out of the college game for seven years in the first place.)
But if there's one thing new president Susan Herbst has proven she's capable of doing since taking over in June, it's that she sure knows how to make a splash. And with interim athletic director Paul Pendergast now in place, the athletic department's two biggest decision-makers -- Pendergast and Jim Calhoun -- likely do not, and should not, feel inclined to give Pasqualoni any extra time to sort things out.
Give him the full season to see if he can figure it out. But if Coach P can't provide some reason for optimism moving forward, it's better to cut the chord now rather than later.
Not that the university ever will. Despite UConn's Year of HAM in 2010-11, the university has drawn so much negative attention recently because of athletics, and firing its football coach after only one year -- such an uncommon move that I can't even think of a single former coach who fits the bill -- would likely only further damage its diminishing perception, and make it that much harder to draw top coaching talent to the barren recruiting wasteland of Storrs, Conn.
But until they do, UConn football is in for countless more predictably awful performances -- ones that seem even more frustrating than in years past; without the track record and emotional ties Edsall built up in a decade-plus, Pasqualoni will receive no benefit of the doubt.
And unlike Bobby Burton, it's not going to feel good to keep having to say we told ya so.