Okay, so it's January 3rd. How many resolutions have you already broken?
New Year's resolutions are pretty much universal. Maybe you don't call them "resolutions" but you've definitely set some goals for the year. Maybe they're small, like "hit the gym more", or perhaps they're pretty big, like find a new job or propose to that special someone. Whatever it is, 2014 holds the promise of resolutions fulfilled.
Well, I think UConn and some of the people who run their athletic program need to make a few resolutions as well. You can't make them for someone else usually, but what the hell ... I'm feeling helpful in 2014.
So here are a few important goals that need to be laid out for the coming 12 months.
1. Kevin Ollie Needs To Find Those Tough Guys
It's been pretty much rainbows and cherubs singing for Kevin Ollie as UConn men's basketball head coach. It's hard to imagine anyone else taking over for Jim Calhoun and immediately earning the trust and love of the entire fan base.
Yet, Ollie and the Huskies start 2014 at a mini cross roads. They've lost two very disappointing games against inferior teams and will probably fall out of the top 25 when next week rolls around.
Ollie, after the game, talked about the need to find "a couple of tough guys." He needs to do more than that. He needs to find whatever buttons he pushed last year and pound on them until they crack like the clipboard he broke during the Houston game.
Ollie has seemingly hit all the right notes in his short tenure as coach, but he's been unable to convince his team to play a full 40 minutes of basketball so far this season - odd considering the staple of UConn's "play for pride" squad last year was an apparent boundless supply of tenacity.
There are some deficiencies in UConn's game that might make a legit run to a title virtually impossible but playing from whistle to whistle shouldn't be one of them.
If Ollie needs to find some tough players, he better do it quick ... or coach a few to turn tough in the meantime.
2. UConn Basketball Players Need To Find Another Gear
Instead of a resolution, maybe these could be a pact between Ollie and the team. Whereas Ollie needs to coach up his players to give 100 percent every moment of every game, his players have to commit to it.
Losing is one thing. Losing because the other team just out-hustled you is always inexcusable. It never ceases to amaze me that you could walk down to your local park and see teenagers and adults playing basketball or baseball or freakin flag football, with everyone giving it their all, and yet these kids, who have every reason in the world to play hard all the time just can't find the motivation to do so.
Well, they better start.
If winning for winning's sake isn't enough, then everyone from Shabazz Napier to Amida Brimah better realize they are establishing a reputation here. Napier isn't a slam-dunk NBA prospect and, as a point guard, he does himself a tremendous disservice when he, as the "leader" of the team, comes out so flat and uninterested in playing as he did against Houston. Ryan Boatright is an undersized point guard who doesn't really run an offense that well yet. They last thing you want on tape is a bunch of mistakes and bad decision making. And DeAndre Daniels ... dear Lord, please, at some point, realize that being talented is wasted when you approach the game in half measures.
Ollie can look, he can coach, but if no one is interested in meeting him where he wants to be, it's all for naught. UConn can still have a great season with special moments. They have talent. They have the know-how to win close games. With 2014 just beginning, they need to make a resolution to actually do it.
3. Bob Diaco Needs To Lead UConn Football, On And Off The Field
Bob Diaco insists UConn football isn't a rebuilding project. He's here to take a product and make it better - that's what he says. The truth, however, isn't as simple.
There are some really impressive accomplishments over the last decade or so on which UConn can hang its hat, and being a part of a BCS game only a few years ago is nothing to sneeze at, but Diaco takes over a team that's gone 13-23 over the last three years, has played the type of football guaranteed to put fans to sleep, and has helped keep UConn on the outside of a power conference looking in.
That's why Diaco's job is so difficult. This isn't just about building a winner on the field. It's about getting the UConn faithful to buy in, completely and total, to Husky football.
This is a basketball university. It has been and probably always will be. But just because the hardwood will always hold top billing doesn't mean football can't find a place the fan base's collective heart.
After all, Michigan State is a pretty rabid basketball school that LOVES football. Same thing with UCLA. It can be that way in Storrs.
It just needs someone with the ability to excite the fans, both on game day and before it.
Diaco had a great start. His opening press conference was part football tutorial and part motivational speech. Whereas Paul Pasqualoni was kinda like Ben Stein at the beginning of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Diaco was like Pete Carroll meets Plato.
"Get your tickets now," he told everyone, because they'll be sold out quick, the new head coach promised. Well, I hope he's right, but to make it happen, he's gonna need to be as committed to PR as he is to recruiting. He needs to woo the fan base with more than just wins. He needs to help make UConn football must-see.
It seems like he's up to the task.
4. Warde Manuel Needs To Be A Builder
UConn's athletic director has already finished two major, major projects: he's hired new head coaches for both the basketball and football programs, the two most important in the entire UConn athletic department. It looks like, with Ollie, he's hit a home run, and Diaco definitely feels like he could be as well.
However, Manuel's job is far from finished.
Next up: build.
UConn is in the process of building its long-anticipated basketball practice facility. It's also faced with a move to Hockey East next season and the need for am on-campus ice rink. That plays right into the future of Gampel Pavilion which, despite still being a great facility, is beginning to look a little antiquated when compared to other such buildings around college athletics. Do you give Gampel a full makeover or turn it into the ice rink while building a brand-new basketball facility? That's an important question that will need to be answered.
Improvements and upgrades are needed for UConn's other non-revenue sports as well, such as for soccer and baseball, so Manuel has his work cut out for him. All of it will require money, which will mean a sizeable increase in donations.
Of course, it all needs to be aimed at Manuel's biggest project: getting UConn into a power conference. Hey, after everything the Huskies have been through, and how they've been snubbed at every turn, there's a big part of me that would love to see the American pull off the impossible and become a big-time conference bringing in big-time money. In fact, you can make the case that for the health of it's football program, staying in the American might end up being best for the Huskies, since a path to 10 or 11 wins a year is easier in the AAC than, say, the ACC. However, it seems pretty clear that the top conferences are going to consolidate power at some point. I still believe we are going to see 5 16-team conferences at some point, but no matter what happens, you're going to need a seat at the table in order to stay relevant. It's a shame that so few can so easily shut out so many simply because they have the power, right now, to do so, but reality is reality. That means, for its long-term future, UConn needs a home in a power conference.
I have come to believe that the Big 10 makes a lot of sense, and considering Manuel is a Michigan man, it might be a perfect match. Wherever it ends up being, however, Manuel needs to make it happen.
He'd hired his coaches. He's in the process of building his fields and stadiums. Now he needs to build a bridge to a conference.
5. Geno Auriemma Needs To Keep Doing What He's Doing
Is there anything else to say? The women's program is a well-oiled machine under Geno. He just needs to, you know, keep showing up and everything will be fine.
6. UConn Fans Need To Support The Teams
Hey, I'm as guilty as anyone. With work and personal commitments, I don't get to a lot of games anymore. It's tough. I know. However, if we, as fans, truly want to be taken seriously, especially in football, we need to step up and step out. That means going to more basketball games at the XL Center, even though it isn't the ideal spot to watch basketball. That means being as loud for UConn vs. CCSU as UConn vs. Louisville.
That means showing UConn's new football head coach he didn't make a mistake coming to Storrs. That means cutting the tailgates short on Saturdays and heading into the Rent before kickoff.
That means supporting UConn athletics the way we can and have ... just doing it more consistently.
Don't get me wrong, UConn, the coaches, and the players have a responsibility to provide winning teams that play fun games to watch. I don't blame anyone for staying away from the putrid performances on the gridiron provided by Pasqualoni. No university, no matter the history or tradition, should expect fans to shell out hard-earned money for a terrible product simply because it's "our team." But despite a few recent set backs, the UConn men's basketball team is a blast to watch play. Same for Geno and his crew. And Bob Diaco deserves our support, which hopefully will be rewarded.
The nation saw how loud the Rent could get when big-time football is played in East Hartford. It was reminded of how special Gampel can be during the Florida game. Let's try to make that the norm, not the exception. After all, it's more fun for everyone that way, right?
Those are the resolutions I'd like to see made. I'm sure there are more, I just can't think of any right now. Oh, and one more thing ... as a proud alum of UConn, I'd love to have a year where every time the university made the news it wasn't about sexual assault allegations or poor graduation rates. That's be nice, right?