As UConn Football fans slumbered on the night of Christmas, they could not have possibly imagined what would unfold over the following two days.
On the morning of December 26th, we found out Bob Diaco had been removed from his post. A tenure which started off with so much excitement and optimism was suddenly over. Diaco was young, energetic, passionate, and his team showed solid growth in its second season, but the 2016 season crashed and burned in spectacular fashion.
There are many reasons the Bob Diaco era was not working out, but conventional wisdom suggested he would get a chance to redeem himself in a make-or-break 2017 season.
David Benedict bucked conventional wisdom, making a big decision sometime in the month between the end of the season and the announcement of Diaco’s firing. 48 hours after the announcement of that surprising decision, he confounded college football fans everywhere by replacing Diaco with a familiar face.
Benedict and football administrator Beth Goetz, who have worked in the SEC and Big Ten, decided to turn back the clock, make our list of potential head coaching candidates look very silly, and give Randy Edsall a second chance at running UConn Football.
On the surface, this move comes off as uninspiring, bordering on sad. UConn couldn’t find anyone better than the guy who left the Huskies in the shittiest way possible and was coming off a failed tenure at the school he left for?
Edsall does have a lot going for him, though, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t at least be better than the two coaches who succeeded his first stint at UConn. His Husky teams did not play a very exciting brand of football, but they were pretty consistently making bowl games and even grabbed a few Big East (RIP) titles along the way.
UConn Football is a unique cookie. It doesn’t have decades of history to look back on, from a program or fanbase perspective. It’s not in an area rife with football talent. Though it is a great academic school, UConn’s Storrs location does not offer the same draw as many other locales—New Orleans, Florida, Texas—of its conference competition.
So far, there is only one person who has proven up to the task of making UConn a competitive FBS program. Now he’s back. You can be angry about how he left, but personally I’m over it. He built something great at UConn against tremendous odds and has since reconciled in many ways, including a generous donation to build a statue in honor of Jasper Howard.
It also takes a moderate degree of humility to face a fanbase he has scorned and come back. Winning will solve everything though.
Good old days, tell you what. pic.twitter.com/F6L6Gb4NQo— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) December 28, 2016
At any rate, there’s little use questioning the decision now. Credit to David Benedict for making a necessary move under tough conditions and locking in a suitable, if controversial, coach at a great price.
Looking forward here are a few keys to success for the second act of the Randy Edsall era at UConn:
Randy Edsall received a lot of flak from the state of Connecticut’s high school football coaches for not doing a great job recruiting the local talent. Diaco received the same criticism, though to a lesser extent as he was still able to sign Jay Rose, Tahj Herring, Tyler Coyle, and Keyion Dixon over offers and interest from “power five” schools.
Of course, Paul Pasqualoni was brought in to appease that crowd, and we all know how that worked out...
On a related note, I think a bit too much emphasis is given to recruiting rankings when it comes to UConn Football. Players in our region are not exactly being closely studied by national recruiting analysts, so ratings for kids from New York and New England need to be taken with a grain of salt. Given the school’s geographic footprint, conference affiliation, and lack of recent football success, it really is a stretch to ask any coach to do much better than bringing in lesser known, high-potential players who can be molded into starting caliber players in 3-4 years.
Edsall is likely to continue that approach, the same one he used while previously at UConn, until the football program’s standing can improve. He does have a big challenge ahead of him in navigating the class of 2017, which currently stands at 13 commitments, but going forward fans might continue to be disappointed in the star ratings of players.
Style of Play
Edsall’s previous UConn teams played a similar style to what Bob Diaco was trying to do here, at least structurally speaking. They wanted to run the ball and play really good defense. College, and even high school, football has evolved to a point where that is no longer a viable strategy, especially for a mid-major program, where having a quality offensive line is not a guarantee.
Hopefully Edsall sees the need to refresh his approach, especially offensively. Who he brings in as offensive coordinator will be critical to his success at UConn. Staffing that role was one of Bob Diaco’s critical weaknesses.
Speaking of the coaching staff, Edsall has former UConn and Maryland staffers all over, so there’s great potential for him to bring the band back together. Here are a few potential options:
Mike Locksley - Offensive Analyst, Alabama
Locksley served as Edsall’s offensive coordinator at Maryland and is an ace recruiter with connections all over the eastern seaboard. He also served as the Terrapins’ interim head coach after Edsall was fired in the middle of the 2015 season.
Jon Wholley - Defensive Coordinator, Fordham
Wholley is a former UConn player endorsed by the likes of Dan Orlovsky as someone who would make a difference at UConn and bring great passion and youth to the staff. He has been a high-riser in the profession, working at UConn for a bit before joining Fordham, and would be a great addition to Edsall’s staff.
Vinny Marino - Quarterbacks Coach, Davidson
Another former UConn player who is well-traveled as a coach, making stops at Columbia, Georgetown, Boston College, and Davidson after his stint with UConn from 2002-2005.
Lyndon Johnson - Running Backs Coach, Towson
Johnson worked with Edsall at Maryland and UConn as an assistant coach on both sides of the ball. The 1992 UConn graduate would make a great addition to the staff in a variety of roles.
Terry Richardson - Former Running Backs Coach, Maryland
A Syracuse grad with NFL experience, Richardson has worked alongside Edsall before at UConn and Maryland.
Corey Edsall - Graduate Assistant, Colorado
Edsall’s son Corey has had a chance to work at Maryland, with NFL teams, and most recently at Colorado. I’d say there’s a pretty good chance he joins his father’s staff.