NEWPORT, Rhode Island — The Civil Conflict trophy put UConn into the national spotlight a few weeks ago. Bob Diaco created a rivalry trophy on his own, and no one, not even UCF, the other team in this newly-formed "rivalry," had any idea what was going on.
Diaco doesn't care about any of the negative press, the criticism over the name, the opponent or the previous scores going on the trophy. That doesn't matter to him.
"I'll peel every plaque off the thing. I do not care," Diaco said. "You want me to take the score from a year ago? Done. You want to add the score from 2013? Done. I don't really care. You want to change the name because the first part of it is an implication from a few hundred years ago? Fine. I thought about all of it. We'll call it 'The Conflict.' We can capitalize the "fl" and capitalize the "ct." The semantics of it, I'm good on it. Whatever is least offensive to everyone involved. Whoever's the most offended, you make it. I'm fine with that.
"It's about our team, and our locker room and the energy coming from that group."
Since its creation many weeks ago, the Civil Conflict has been—and it will always remain—a motivational tool for the second-year head coach. He uses it to inspire his team to reach the highest level it can. A win over UCF last season, UConn's lone Football Bowl Subdivision win of 2014, was not enough for Diaco. He wants the Huskies to regularly go toe-to-toe with the best in the American en route to becoming the best themselves.
"You're not going to tell me how I'm going to talk to my team or energize my team," Diaco said Tuesday at the American Athletic Conference's football media day for 2015. "So that's not going to change. And the trophy was meant to be out of respect, to add interest and energy to college football."
Diaco went on at length about his excitement to play UCF and not worrying about what other people call the game. He loves college football rivalries, a passion developed through four years at Iowa, playing against many Big 10 rivals, and as a coach at Notre Dame, playing for the likes of the Jeweled Shillelagh. Diaco wants UConn to have games like that.
He also pointed to his respect for the Knights and head coach George O'Leary as the primary reason for picking UCF as his team's big rivalry game.
"Coach O'Leary runs a football program the way I would like to someday run a football program," Diaco said. "He's created one of the best football programs in America, in any conference. So we're in that half. So who better?"
UCF defensive lineman Thomas Niles had no idea the Civil Conflict trophy was created until a few days ago. To him, it is a testament to the Knights' success under O'Leary, which includes a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor two seasons ago.
"That's good. That's good on Coach O'Leary," Niles said. "He's built this program over the last 12 years. It's good. We've won a lot of football games. That's good people want to mimic our football program. That means we're doing something right. That's Coach's doing."
When the Huskies get on the plane for the game against UCF in Orlando Oct. 10, the trophy will be on board. O'Leary turned to Diaco Tuesday and asked him to bring it down with the team.
UConn senior safety Andrew Adams cannot wait to bring it down, and he expects it to be back in Storrs Oct. 11.
"When we look to go back to Orlando, Florida, I look to gain their respect," Adams said. "The whole Civil Conflict thing, I know last year, we came home with the trophy. We're going to bring it down to Orlando, and I look forward to coming home with the trophy again."
But the game is one of 12 for both UConn and UCF this season, and while UConn players will talk about winning the trophy, players on both sides are just looking to win football games.
In that regard, there is no shortness of confidence in the UConn locker room.
"I think we can go undefeated," Adams said. "That's always our goal. I truly believe that. There's no one on our schedule we can't beat, so I think we're going undefeated."
It is almost as if Adams took the words right out of Diaco's mouth. Never one to limit his expectations or to shy away from a bold statement, the ever-confident Diaco set a high bar for his team in 2015.
"We're going to win every game," Diaco said. "We're going to play as one of the four teams in the playoffs and win the national championship. ... Our expectation is we will win the football games. The score at the end of the game, we will have at least one more point than the opponent."