Photo by Jacqueline Bennett Pratt&Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, current home of UConn football.
By Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
The red light was flashing on my land line when I arrived home yesterday alerting me to a waiting message – “if you haven’t heard, Diaco has been fired.” ‘Diaco’ referring to Bob Diaco, head coach of University of Connecticut Football for the last three seasons. I would venture to guess text messages have been flying as fast as fingers can pound the keys and phone lines across the state have been burning up the “Diaco’s been fired” news.
Eagerly I awaited a report from Kevin Nathan of NBC30. Connecticut’s best broadcast sports journalist, I particularly wanted to hear his take on the firing. He was not on the 6:00 p.m. program but had sent word that according to a source, four candidates were under consideration for the job – including Randy Edsall, former head coach of the Huskies.
In addition to being a proud UConn alumna, I too am a “former” – a former UConn football season ticket holder. Although cost played a role in my dropping season tickets, it was not the only reason. Yet, I tried to attend a couple games per season to support the team which dwindled to attending just the homecoming game. This season, I did not even go to the homecoming game. Rain or shine, I am a firm believer in team loyalty. I still wear my UConn Football sweatshirt, and when they are available I watch the games on television. Paraphrasing a well known poem however, – ‘there was no joy in Mudville.’
The last time I recall taking great joy in watching a UConn football game, Dan Orlovsky was quarterback. At 6′ 4″ with a precision throwing arm he was easy to spot from our seats to the left of the scoreboard. Orlovsky’s dedication to Connecticut is legendary. A blue chip player out of Shelton who passed up chances to play high profile competitive football with established college programs in order to help UConn build its football program under Edsall’s tutelage. Having held season tickets since the days of Memorial Stadium on the Storrs campus, we continued buying four season tickets for a number years.
I must add the fun that came with standing near the goal posts at Memorial Stadium is gone and the fun of the drive to campus is gone. The noise level has become increasingly unbearable in Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, current home to UConn football. I understand background music that is played needs to appeal to the present day student body but would it spoil some vast eternal plan to also remember the alumni in attendance.
Back to Orlovsky. He certainly did his part time in a what was supposed to represent a promise of growth and prominence on the Husky gridiron, a sport overshadowed by the tremendous success of UConn men’s and women’s basketball and their multiple national championship titles.
Something went awry. Reports surfaced of friction between Edsall and the athletic director at the time. Reports surfaced too of Edsall admonishing Connecticut fans for not being aware of football customs apparently entrenched in other regions. Please excuse us here in New England for taking time away from football frenzy to read novels, study, turn out for library and historical society presentations, visit museums and attend the theater. Edsall brought the team to a bowl game then infamously departed on a plane immediately afterwards to take a head coaching position in Maryland – without informing his players in person before he flew the coop.
Paul Pasqualoni was hired next. Older, Pasqualoni was well-respected with experience coaching at the NFL level and close ties to high school coaches in Connecticut. Unfortunately, he did not seem to click with the UConn players. After Pasqualoni was let go, T.J.Weist was hired as an interim.
Enter Diaco. Oh my. Diaco, 43, comes across as a well intentioned guy. A photo still posted on the university website shows a happy looking Diaco with his wife and three children when he was hired. From day one however, his over-the-top public statements were clearly a misfit for Connecticut. I do not simply mean the University of Connecticut. I mean the state of Connecticut, which although progressive in the political arena is collectively conservative in manner. Diaco’s demeanor at press conferences became uncomfortable to see as a viewer, and became the subject of eye rolls when sports reports were delivered. Then came the embarrassment of the so-called civil rivalry trophy competition Diaco orchestrated with another university. The opposing team won that trophy this season but departed without bothering to pick it up leaving the university with “egg on the face.”
As this season went on, fewer and fewer people showed up at Rentschler for the games. Finally, it was acknowledged that the fan base had been lost. During an interview with WTIC radio after Diaco’s firing, David Benedict, the new athletic director, invited former supporters back to the fold noting efforts are underway to improve.
In three seasons under Diaco, UConn had a 11-26 record. This season the Huskies were 3-9 with consecutive, devastating losses and what was described as the worse offensive line record in the country. A young, upcoming quarterback was relieved of his duties.
It is hard to hear of someone losing a job. Nonetheless, a change offers an opportunity for UConn to find a better fit for the head coach spot and the football program. UConn posted a press release on the university website with a statement from Benedict which reads, ” I believe a new leader for our program and student-athletes is needed to build long-term success.”
Diaco was quoted in the same press release as saying the firing is not how he hoped things would go but he expressed his gratitude for his time at UConn. Because his termination will not happen in 2016 and is not official until January 2, 2017, the university will reportedly save about $1.5 million in buy-out costs from the contract renewed with Diaco in May. UConn will reportedly be required instead to pay Diaco a $3.4 million buy-out.
Along the way, Edsall has expressed regret over the way he left UConn. He brought the program success and was apparently well-regarded by his UConn recruits, among them Orlovsky. And after all, under the stewardship of Gov. Dan Malloy, Connecticut has proclaimed itself as a state of “second chances”. That refers to convicted criminals but a second chance state is a second chance state.
Ironically, among my crowd we had speculated things went so poorly for UConn football this season that the university might seek to bring Edsall back. Three other potential candidates were mentioned last evening by NBC30. The station reported a new head coach would likely be named within 48 hours. As soon as the news breaks, I am sure the red light will be flashing on my phone
12/29/2016 Revision & Update: Randy Edsall has been brought back as head coach of UConn Football – a press conference announcing his return is slated for Rentschler Friday, Dec. 30 at 11 a.m.