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A New Era At UConn

UConn Looked To South Bend To Find Its Man


Things happen fast in sports.

Early this morning reports started to surface that Michigan State Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi had spurned UConn and turned down an offer from Huskies Athletic Director Warde Manuel to become the football teams new head coach. It was a mini punch to the gut as Narduzzi seemed a perfect fit for UConn and was a hot name in college football (his defense had just helped beat Ohio State to put the Spartans in the Rose Bowl and he won the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in the country).

Then, the craziness of the Internet reared its head as a report came out stating that there was a flight scheduled from Groton, CT to Muncie, Ind. Since Ball State University is located in Muncie, and no one from Connecticut is likely to take a spur-of-the-moment winter trip to Indiana unless for business, two and two suggested UConn was looking to nab Pete Lembo, who appeared to be second on their list of possible candidates.

However, Lembo tweeted a picture from Alabama later in the afternoon,  where he is evidently scouting the facilities in the lead up to Ball State's game in the GoDaddy Bowl. So, if reps from UConn were flying out to Muncie to see Lembo, they were evidently gonna have to wait for him to get back.

From mid-afternoon until about 8 p.m. tonight it seemed like that would be the only news coming from UConn. Narduzzi was out, Lembo was up, and everyone at UConn was holding their breath. After so much negativity surrounding the UConn program, the LAST thing anyone needed was for Manuel's first two choices for head coach to turn him down, flat.

And then the news hit.

UConn was close to hiring Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco. Close turned to sure thing and, suddenly, terms of an agreement were being announced: 5 years, $1.5 million per year.

UConn had their man. Bob Diaco was the new UConn football head coach.

Let's get this out of the way - I LOVE this move.

Pretty much everything I liked about Narduzzi is embodied by Diaco. Not only did he win the Broyles Award last year, when his Fighting Irish defense was the main reason why ND played for a national title, but he was runner up the year before.

He's young. The birth certificate says 40 but, seriously, have you seen his picture? The guy looks like he's 30, at most. That's not a knock. UConn needed someone young, hungry, and with fire. Diaco has that.

He's from the north east. He's a Jersey guy, and I believe that's important. I'm sure he knows his way around Jersey football and, let's be honest, if UConn is going to be a success one of the places in which it must recruit, and recruit well, is New Jersey.

And he comes from a winning tradition. Diaco's Irish defense in 2012 was about as good as it gets. According to his Notre Dame bio, ND held five different opponents to single-digit scoring outings last year. The D took a step back this year, but that was to be expected as a.) they lost some key players to the draft and b.) the offense was much worse and put ND in bad situations on a continuous basis.

If you were drawing up what UConn needed before this process began, Diaco's resume would have checked off a lot of items on that list.

Three cheers go to Warde Manuel here. He handled this about as perfectly as you could have. Manuel was given high marks for keeping quiet about the coaching search during the season, which meant that UConn Interim Head Coach TJ Weist and his players could concentrate on the games and not be peppered constantly with questions about who would be where in 2014. When it came time to start interviewing, Manuel acted swiftly.

The names on UConn's list of candidates was impressive and it led some to wonder whether Manuel was overreaching. When Narduzzi turned UConn down, I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a knot in my stomach, imagining a whole succession of rejections until Manuel hired the last man standing on his wish list.

Instead, Manuel played this one close to the vest and acted fast.

There had been no reports to my knowledge that Diaco had even interviewed for the job, only that he could be a candidate. All focus was on Lembo, and some reports suggested that, if Lembo passed, UConn could turn to Virginia Tech coordinator Bud Foster. Diaco, up until about 8 p.m. tonight, was just a name on a list, nothing more.

I can't pretend to know what options Diaco might have had in terms of coaching, but what I do know is that last year he was considered one of the hottest young guys in the game. Yahoo! Sports did a story on how, if a Big 10 job opened up, especially at his alma mater Iowa, Diaco's name would top the list of candidates. Also, if you remember back to right after the Super Bowl this year, there were reports that ND Coach Brian Kelly might jump to the NFL if asked. Speculation was that the Irish would turn to Diaco if that happened and give him one year at the helm to prove his metal.

All of it points to a bright young mind people respect. All of it points to a potential home run hire for Manuel.

Now, of course, Diaco has only proven he can get the job, not that he can do the job. There are a lot of questions still to be answered. Will Weist stay on as offensive coordinator or will he either get a head coaching shot somewhere else (those last three games might have bought him a few looks) or be replaced by someone closer to Diaco? If so, what does the offense look like next year? What kind of recruiter will Diaco be? Will Diaco be able to make the transition to being a head coach as opposed to a coordinator, and take an interest in the entire team rather than just the D?

Only time can answer those questions.

Right now, however, the future is whatever Diaco wants it to be. Manuel saw something in him and he saw something in UConn. Hopefully by the end, it will have been a marriage made in college football heaven.

So welcome, Coach Diaco. Enjoy Storrs. Enjoy Hartford. We are thrilled to have you.

And, in a throaty, excited, heartfelt voice I say ... GO HUSKIES!!!!!!