Monday, October 1, 2012

Why Paul Pasqualoni Needs To Go To Save UConn Football

It’s unfair to pin all the blame on UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni. It’s not really his fault. He should never have been hired in the first place.

I had the displeasure of making the trek up from Washington, D.C. to watch UConn sputter its way to a thoroughly uninspiring 24-17 win over a mediocre Buffalo team. I give all the credit to Buffalo for keeping the game close – they fought for 60 minutes and threw in a few razzle-dazzle plays that made it interesting.

UConn should beat this year’s version of Buffalo with ease. They did not.

pasqualoni meme
But I am not here to write about the on-field problems with UConn football, which have been well-documented. Any UConn fan can see that the play-calling is atrocious, the running game is non-existent, the game management is a joke and the defense is being asked to do way too much

I am here to write about the problem that is threatening to submarine everything the UConn football program and its players built up since the jump to I-A, now FBS, was made official in the late 1990’s.

The program-crippling problem is apathy. The crowd was announced at more than 34,000, but if there were north of 25,000 in the stadium at any given time, I’d be shocked.

Simply put, there is no buzz around UConn football. 

In 2003, I took my Dad to the opener for Rentscheler Field for his birthday – I had just graduated from college and, being out of touch from UConn for those 4 years, literally did not realize that UConn had become big-time. We went to all but 1 home game that year. By 2004, we had season tickets as did four of my friends. Our tailgating group ballooned to 10 regulars by 2007 and we were constantly scrounging around for more tickets for friends, family and co-workers who wanted to see what the buzz was about.

We made road trips to Charlotte, Boston and Philadelphia to follow the Huskies. We were at Notre Dame Stadium when UConn slayed Notre Dame and Randy Edsall’s post-game interview on the field was drowned out by thunderous “UCONN!” chants. We rushed the field after wins over South Florida in 2007 and West Virginia in 2010. We celebrated our Fiesta Bowl berth. We tried in vain to get Donald Brown a Heisman invite in 2008.

UConn football was our team and we were going to support them the same way that we did UConn basketball, versions men and women.

It is too easy to blame Randy Edsall for everything. Yes, he left in the most undignified manner possible. Yes, he put UConn’s 2011 season in an almost impossible spot. But yes, he also took a middle of the road I-AA team and turned into a program that could play in the Fiesta Bowl. He didn’t recruit like Nick Saban but he produced first-round NFL picks and NFL starters. 

In the aftermath, then-UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway made one of the worst coaching hires in the history of UConn athletics. That may sound like hyperbole but when the 3 previous hires in revenue sports were Jim Calhoun, Geno Auriemma and Randy Edsall (and we have the #2 men's soccer team in the country)  – the bar was set pretty high.

The best way to describe the hiring of Pasqualoni was “uninspiring.” He was moderately successful at Syracuse, but his best teams were led by a once-in-a-lifetime QB – you may have heard of Donovan McNabb. Other than that, Syracuse was a very average football team. And that was 10 years ago.

Pasqualoni has done nothing since coming on board to change anyone’s perception. The team has yet to win 2 straight games under his stewardship. They were dissected by Western Michigan in consecutive years. The best win came either against Rutgers last year, courtesy of roughly 12 Rutgers turnovers, or this year against Maryland – a Maryland team that is 4-12 since Edsall took over.

Almost overnight, UConn went from a plucky program with potential to one that lacks juice. We've become the Kentucky of the Big East. The Rent wasn’t sold out for every home game under Edsall but it never felt empty like it did Saturday.

The sad descent was crystallized on Saturday when the new UConn DJ (and yikes could that be its own blog post in the future) played music and tried to get the crowd to dance. No one did.

Instantly, the 2 people I went to Saturday’s game with – the tailgating crowd has thinned out – started talking wistfully about the past.

“I remember when they played this song when we played West Virginia in 2010, the place went bonkers!”

“Yeah, but not like against Louisville on that Friday night in 2007.”

“Nothing will top the crowd for South Florida in the snow in '09.”

After a few happy memories, we settled into silence. What else was there to say? We were sitting in a half-empty stadium on a dreary fall afternoon watching Buffalo cut a 24-7 lead down to a one score game.

The crowd exited en masse during the fourth quarter. It wasn’t because they believed the game was in hand. It was because they knew it wasn’t and they didn’t want to see them blow it. The insults rained down on Pasqualoni and the play calling. The atmosphere grew angry and unhappy. And we were winning!

I have never walked out of the Rent feeling so miserable after a win. It didn’t feel like a loss. It felt like the program had been lost.

The excitement is gone. The thrill has vanished. We are left trying to decipher why UConn ran yet another 1st down run up the middle. We are forced to comprehend why we ran a naked QB bootleg with a slow-footed QB – you know, instead of using the Wildcat-only QB who can run the option.

Coach Pasqualoni must go. They say coaches deserve at least three years to implement their system and their players. With the landscape of major college football changing rapidly every day, UConn in 2012 does not have that luxury.

UConn cannot sit pat and hope this works out. We know it’s not going to work out, so why delay the inevitable?

UConn needs a new football coach. UConn does not need another retread or former NFL coach. We need to take the same approach as we did when hiring Randy Edsall or Jim Calhoun – give a respected assistant or lower-level coach the opportunity to prove himself.

On Saturday night, still stewing from the win, I watched Towson put up a fight against LSU led by former UConn assistant Rob Ambrose. Towson showed more poise, more determination and more moxie in a hopeless situation against one of the best teams in America than UConn has at any point under Paul Pasqualoni.

No matter what ESPN says about the Big East, UConn can be great at football. UConn can win the Big East. UConn can play in the new version of the BCS. UConn can win a BCS-level bowl game. UConn can do all of those things.

Except we can’t right now and that’s why it’s time for a change. 

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2 comments:

  1. Amen, amen.

    And after the humiliating loss at 'Cuse (minus 6 yards rushing?!?!) it makes the case even more compelling. They ought to fire him now and hand the keys to DeLeone or one of the other assistants as an interim coach to see what they can do with the balance of the season. In parallel, start scouting for possible candidates so they can move quickly at the end of the season.

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    1. This season is just lost at this point. Who knew that things could possibly get so much worse after I wrote this??

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