Bob Diaco's day started with a warm welcome from Mike Aresco in the commissioner's opening remarks at AAC Media Day. Aresco touted the fact that Diaco was the only new head coach in the conference as a testament to the stability and quality of the conference. You gotta hand it to the guy he has chugged the AAC Kool-Aid and is offering free cups to any and all takers.
Diaco then proceded to the interview room where he was pegged with questions by the actual media as I meekly stood in the background taking it all in. He touched on his concerns about the offensive line, expectations for his top players, how the quarterback situation may play out, and more.
Davis, Jones to Play Starring Roles
Wide Receiver Geremy Davis and Cornerback Byron Jones are standing out to Coach Bob Diaco as model student-athletes and leaders both on and off the field. He has high expectations for them coming into the season and threw some pretty heavy compliments their way as well. Davis is coming off a season in which he hauled in 71 passes for 1,085 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jones moved from safety to corner last year, posting 60 tackles and 3 interceptions.
When he took the podium at the end of the day, Diaco mentioned that both Davis and Jones are stellar students, "One already has his degree, working on his second and the other is an A student...They also happen to be two of the very best players at their position in the country." High praise from a guy who does not mince words.
On Geremy Davis:
"He reminds me of Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald... not at that level, but that body. He's hard to cover... He's more physical than the defensive backs who will try to cover him and faster than the linebackers. He catches everything in his catch radius."
On Byron Jones:
"In terms of size, speed, quickness and athleticism, you could put his numbers up against everyone in the country...He's big, real fast and crazy explosive. These are all things you can see."
Offensive Line a Big Question Mark
This is not a huge surprise, and not exactly news, but Bob Diaco's comments regarding the offensive line were slightly more severe than what we've previously heard.
Offensive line "is a different animal," he said. "Not a lot of dudes there who can play 12 games of competitive football."— Tim Fontenault (@Tim_Fontenault) July 29, 2014
Again, we were expecting things to be rough on the O-line, but those are pretty serious words. Without sounding like a broken John Madden record, the game is won and lost in the trenches. Color me concerned.
QB By Committee?
#UConnFootball will have a starting QB but he won't be the only one who plays in a game. Two are going to play...— Desmond Conner (@desmondconner) July 29, 2014
This would make sense to me if we had one guy who was mobile and another who was more of a pocket passer or maybe a larger framed, goal-line, wildcat type but all three of our quarterbacks are basically standard pocket passers, so I'm not sure how this all is going to work out.
Casey Cochran is the leader right now, and currently stands atop the depth chart. All indications are that Cochran will be the nominal starter, but perhaps we'll see a different quarterback for a more QB-mobile set of plays. If I had to guess, that second QB would be Tim Boyle with Chandler Whitmer playing the veteran backup role. Total guess though.
Diaco on Cochran: "Casey is your quintessential leader. He's the moxy. He's the swagger. ... But he's got to work on his foot speed."— Gavin Keefe (@GavinKeefe) July 29, 2014
Bob Takes the Podium
In classic Diaco fashion, our new football leader got behind the microphone and was infectiously energetic, gracious and used a few outside the box analogies to make his point. In a prepared statement, he outlined the wholesale changes the staff is undertaking to reform the program.
Since taking over in January, Diaco has been working hard to improve the players' health, "we've analyzed their nutritional component with blood panels, their power ratios, we've had players that put on 10 pounds, losing 5% body fat, giving them a chance to win their individual match-ups in the games." Earlier in the day he mentioned that Quarterback Casey Cochran lost 30 pounds this off-season. Multiple players have been reporting significant changes to their body, conditioning and performance. Great job Bob.
Another one of Diaco's primary objectives has been turning around the program's culture, "[it's] a little more intangible. But when you're with your guys and they don't want to leave, when you see these bright smiles that you haven't seen around...they come in early, they leave late." So he feels good about his progress thus far and there's no telling where he can take it a few years down the road. Then he dropped a line that has echoed in my brain all day, "[we're working to create] a culture that will be indomitable against things that cause losing." Beautiful.
Coach Bob Diaco plays Meet the Press @UConnFootball @American_FB pic.twitter.com/jb2xWOa9zv— Joe D'Ambrosio (@JoeDSports) July 29, 2014
He also clearly understands the importance of participation from the university community, quoting Knute Rockne on the importance of engagement. To me this is a chicken-egg situation, winning creates fans and spurs attendance, but at the same time fans and attendance help the program grow. Either way, Diaco is putting in the work to make as many friends in the community as possible. Good to see how much this guy gets it.
Like all of his colleagues in The American, Diaco praised his non-conference slate. He mentioned how excited he was to play competitive programs from BYU and Boise State and for playing the storied Army program in historic Yankee Stadium.
Most importantly, Bob Diaco understands the responsibility bestowed upon him as the leader of a football program compared to his previous role as leader of a unit, "[As a Defensive Coordinator] I'd hear the stories of about 40 or 50. Now I'm hearing the stories of about 150...your mission is wanting to develop young people, help them become great husbands and fathers, business leaders, community service members, and football players." Seriously, how can you not love this guy?
To top it off, after a busy 48 hours, Diaco headed to Rentschler Field for a meet and greet with the Greater Hartford Alumni Association. After observing him at media day and hearing this news, I'm starting to think this he may be a robot. He's been working his tail off to engage the community, ditto on the recruiting trail, and understands what it takes to create a winning culture. Even if this year doesn't meet expectations, it's hard not to believe that the football program is heading in the right direction under his leadership.