This was the right move at the right time for UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel.
Firing Paul Pasqualoni had seemingly become a foregone conclusion, but it appeared that he would get the rest of the season to make his case for a reprieve. After his team showed up in a big way against Michigan, it seemed all but certain Coach PP would finish his full three years on the UConn sidelines.
But Buffalo changed everything.
It changed my feelings. I've been a supporter of ousting Pasqualoni since last year (and was never a fan of his hiring in the first place). However, for the most part I believe that firing a coach in season serves little purpose unless you have the next coach waiting somewhere on the staff. I don't believe UConn does, so why not let the captain of this Titanic ride the ship the rest of the way and then start fresh next year?
However, after barely showing up for a game against a undertalented Buffalo team, and being embarrased for the third time in the first four games of the season, something had to be done. A cosmetic change wouldn't be good enough. This had to be substantial.
It had to be the head coach.
I've been critical of Warde Manuel in the past. I think he's been a mixed bag so far in his young stint at UConn. There have been notable positives, such as the move the Hockey East in hockey, the robust fundraising that started almost immediately after he took his position, the lightning-quick way in which he took a long-stagnant project like the basketball practice facility and put it on the road to completion. However, I truly believe he was out-hustled and out-gamed by Louisville AD Tom Jurich for an invite to the ACC, putting UConn in the difficult position of being barricaded inside a new conference who's future is all but certain, and I thought his reluctance to offer Kevin Ollie an extension so deep into the season stemmed from ego rather than reason. It seemed like Warde wanted everyone, from the fans to Jim Calhoun, to know he was in charge and wouldn't offer a new contract until he was good and ready.
But this situation was handled correctly, and how Manuel goes about rebuilding this football program will mark his legacy.
This is his most important action.
I, like many, wanted Pasqualoni gone at the end of last year, but I understood why it didn't happen. Manuel gave Pasqualoni his shot this year. That's turned into 0-4.
As Mac pointed out in his post, sending Paul Pasquauloni out to the sidelines for the rest of the season would do nothing but send the clear message that UConn doesn't really care about football. That all the talk of building a nationally-relevant program was just that...talk. A message was going to be sent, and Manuel had to decide whether it would be a positive or negative one.
I was worried that the Kevin Ollie situation might play out here. Manuel seemed to bristle at the idea of being "forced" into something when fans and media, and a retired Hall of Fame coach, began calling for an extension. It felt as if Manuel knew he was going to offer Ollie an extension all along, but just wanted to make the "I'm in charge" point.
With this blog constantly beating the "Fire Pasqualoni" drum beat, with media types like Jeff Jacobs recently joining the chorus, I worried that Manuel would take a defensive position and keep Pasqualoni on almost out of defiance. I was concerned that Manuel, sitting in his office in Storrs, would look at this and say "I'm not letting the fans or media make decisions for me" and give Pasqualoni his full year.
Thankfully, that didn't happen.
Manuel handled this the way it should have been handled. He didn't prevent Pasqualoni from getting on the bus, ala what USC AD Pat Haden did to Lane Kiffin this weekend. Like a coach or hate him, everyone who is employed deserves a level of professionalism, especially when their job is being taken away. Haden fired Kiffin in the wee hours of the morning, then texted the players on the team about the move.
Manuel waited, slept on it, considered all options, I assume met with Pasqualoni or spoke at length with him, and then delivered the news. That's the right way to go.
The timing is also perfect considering UConn has a bye week coming up and will play USF, perhaps the only team in the newly-christened AAC more disappointing than UConn. Whoever is named interim head coach will have two weeks to prepare for a really bad team, giving everyone a chance to look a little better going forward.
Firing Pasqualoni now was also practical.
Look, I want UConn to open up their coaching search to the entire nation, which I'm sure they will do. Turn over a few rocks, see who's out there.
We've already speculated on everyone from Turner Gill to Kirk Ferentz. I'm sure there are plenty of hot young assistants out there looking for a shot at a head coaching gig. UConn needs to see what's out there.
Yet, let's not kid ourselves. UConn isn't in the best position to attract coaching talent right now. We can discuss Gill and Ferentz and anyone else, but would they even want to come? I don't know.
After Edsall left, I believe UConn was positioned to get a good coach. Now, I have no idea how pretty the job looks. My guess is about as hot as Warde Manuel in drag.
That means UConn needs to find out what it has right now. Whether it's TJ Weist or Hank Hughes or Mike Foley, they need to get a sense of their options. Giving one of these guys a chance to turn things around this year at least puts them in a position to have a choice at the end of the year. If, say, Weist is promoted and UConn plays really well from here on out, you suddenly have a viable candidate in-house that's very likely to accept the job.
I'm not saying that's going to happen, but you have to find out.
Either way, UConn fans can rejoice. Not because a man lost his job...that's never a nice thing...but because Warde Manuel showed you that his talk is, for now, backed up by actions.
This was the needed first step in bringing UConn football back from the dead. Now, the hard work begins. Whoever Manuel hires, it needs to be the right guy. The team, the program, can't afford another misfire. The true legacy of Warde Manuel will be written now.
So far, so good.