So far, I like Warde Manuel. I like the fact that, seemingly because of his mere presence (or the absence of Jeff Hathaway), donations have begun to pour in and a multitude of big-ticket items (basketball practice facility, new fields for different teams) have gone from stagnant to on track.
I think he handled the Jim Calhoun/Kevin Ollie transition about as well as humanly possible. No question Ollie was sprung on him, but he was able to juggle the difficult tasks of expressing confidence in Ollie, appeasing the Hall of Fame coach that was leaving, and still keeping the door open for a robust national search next year. The fact that no one walked away from that situation annoyed or turned off is a good omen for UConn and its athletic director going forward.
And Manuel gave the type of tepid vote of confidence to Paul Pasqualoni after the dreadful Western Michigan game I would expect from almost anyone. Manuel isn't firing Pasqualoni after four games, nor should he. Even someone like me -- a fan who doesn't believe Pasqualoni is the answer for this program -- understands that firing a person with the overwhelming majority of your season left to play isn't smart and it isn't right.
So, Manuel did what anyone would have -- he tried to quiet the storm of criticism, offer his coach at least a temporary life raft, and hope the rest of the season gives people a reason to flip the narrative on UConn's year. Having said that, I have to take Manuel to task for one thing he did say.
It's something they all say. It's something everyone says when defending an embattled coach.
Here is Manuel's quote from The Hartford Courant, when discussing Pasqualoni, his coaches, and his future:
"Look, there's nobody, when you look at Paul, George and Don [defensive coordinator Don Brown], there's nobody putting more effort into game-planning than those three and the other coaches. Regardless of whether our fans like the results or I like the results - they don't like the results. I mean they sit there and they're thinking all week about the best plan of action for this team, and I'm not doubting their effort, their desire or what they think is the best result."
You know the reason everyone says the exact same thing about their coach? Because EVERYONE works hard. I'm sure some work a little harder than others, but almost to a man, BCS-school coaches work their tail off.
What does that have to do with anything? In what line of work does "working hard" mean job security?
Think about it this way: if you show up everyday to work early, leave late everyday, take a short lunch and work weekends, only to have almost everything you do turn out to be wrong, would you keep your job?
Pasqualoni and the other guys might be burning the candle at both ends, but I'll trade quantity for some quality any day. Pasqualoni could spend a few more hours on the golf course for all I care if he could figure out a way to have his team run a more dynamic offense and commit fewer stupid mistakes. If all that hard work, dedication, and effort is producing the current product, then something is a little out of whack.
Like I said, I'm not really hammering Manuel on this point because I know he is simply offering up the usual coach defense. We all value hard work over laziness, so saying someone is working their fingers to the proverbial bone for the program buys at least a little good will.
Yet, what this comes down to for me is expectations. What does UConn, Manuel, and we as fans expect out of this program? What's the logical landing spot?
If UConn is never meant to be any better than a program struggling to beat MAC teams and counting "bowl-eligible" as the top of the mountain, than having a hard-working guy like Pasqualoni is just fine. He'll put a representative team on the field, one that will win enough games three out of every five years to make a low-end bowl, and keep the program from accumulating any negative headlines. But that will be the extent of it. There won't be any headlines of any kind. UConn football will simply be an excuse for tailgating with friends a few times a year.
If, however, the idea is to have something more robust, then just "working hard" doesn't cut it. I'm sure Urban Meyer works hard. No doubt Pete Carroll worked hard at USC. The reason they are/were celebrated college coaches is because they win. They win big.
I don't expect any future UConn coach to win that way. I'm not naïve. I know what UConn is. But I also know what Kansas State should be. I know that Kansas State, which just beat Oklahoma, was the bottom of the bottom feeders for years before coach Bill Snyder arrived in 1989. I know that program didn't have any history or tradition, either. I know Snyder found a way, in a conference with fierce competition, to make Kansas State nationally viable.
I believe, if someone could do that at Kansas State, they could do it at UConn as well.
Now, Snyder is a special guy. He breathed life into Kansas State then had to return after retirement to do it again. Snyder's don't grow on trees. But that's the point. If UConn wants to be a nationally-relevant program, it needs to try and find its Snyder. Maybe it can, maybe it can't but the question is whether they even want to try.
If so, then a change probably needs to be made at the end of this year. If not, then working hard and making sure practice starts on time should be enough to keep one's job at UConn forever.