Monday, September 22, 2014

Into the Crevasse with UConn Football

"I was ice climbing when I fell into a crevasse and hurt my leg. There was only one way out, so fighting every natural instinct I have, I did the thing I hated the most. I climbed down into the darkness." - Jack Donaghy

There are many reasons why college football coaches get fired and none of them are good.

In some cases, coaches only have to fix one or two problems. Charlie Strong needs to change the culture at Texas, but the talent is still there. Brian Kelly needed to upgrade Notre Dame's defense, but the fans never stopped showing up.

chandler whitmer sack
In more extreme cases, a new coach has to fix everything. And that's where we currently stand with UConn football. There are no quick answers or easy solutions. For UConn football to get better, it's going to have to get worse.

From the moment he was introduced through this past Friday at 7:59 p.m., Bob Diaco seemed to be doing everything right. He was in full salesman mode all offseason. He got a victory in September. His team outplayed a very good Boise State team for three quarters. There were positives to be gleaned from the performances and it felt like hope had returned to the UConn program.

Then Friday night happened. There is no way to sugarcoat how UConn played. They put forth a pitiful performance on national television. They lost to a team that was non-competitive the week before against North Carolina State.

UConn committed too many penalties. They fumbled on their first drive for the fourth game in a row. They abandoned the passing game. They threw the ball one time to an NFL talent in Geremy Davis. They couldn't block a soul. It was a brutal, horrible, painful game to watch.

It felt like there were six wins on the UConn schedule in August, but South Florida probably needed to be one. A more realistic view now reveals UConn is not playing in a bowl game this year.

There were many UConn fans – and I'm as guilty as anyone – that put too much stock into UConn winning their final three games of 2013. Fans like to focus on the good and pushed aside the nine terrible losses that preceded it, blaming it on poor coaching and circumstances.

Following Friday night's debacle, there are those who are angry at Bob Diaco and that is warranted. The bigger problem is that we did not realize the full extent of how far the UConn program had fallen.

On Friday morning, ESPN Classic aired UConn/USF from 2009, as UConn was en route to a four-game winning streak to finish that season. It was an entirely different team, from the uniforms to the nearly packed house in a snowstorm. UConn had upperclassmen with talent that would play on Sundays and get drafted. They had confidence and swagger. They were a good football team.

UConn in 2014 is not a good football team. How can it? The roster has been absolutely gutted, with Paul Pasqualoni delivering three of the school's worst recruiting classes. Randy Edsall was routinely criticized for his recruiting but year after year, his recruits were drafted and successful on Sundays.

To make the poor recruiting classes even worse, the upperclassmen ranks are thin to non-existent. The depth chart is littered with freshmen and sophomores. It is tough for any college team to rely on young kids to win games, especially so when it's a rebuilding team void of superstars.

There have been flashes and glimpses of potential. Alas, that is all we have right now – flashes and glimpses. Even if the defense has been good to stellar for four games, it is impossible to win any football game with the quality of offensive line play UConn has put forth so far.

The damage from the Pasqualoni era will take several years to recover from. The on-field problems for 3 years have been compounded the peripheral issues, such as the fan apathy from losing and the demotion from a power conference to a mid-major. This isn't basketball, where conference affiliation essentially means nothing. Conference affiliation means everything and the American is not a strong brand right now.

I don't know yet if Bob Diaco is the answer. I know that it will be impossible to figure it out this year – first years for college coaches give almost no indication of future success. Charlie Weis and Brady Hoke, respectively, returned Notre Dame and Michigan to BCS bowls in year 1. Nick Saban lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe in his first year at Alabama. Brian Kelly piloted Notre Dame to a home loss against Tulsa.

If you're a UConn fan, all you can hope for from this season is improvement. You can hope that the coaching staff identifies the talent that can grow, mature and lead the team in 2015 and beyond. You can hope the defense remains stout. You can hope the effort level stays where it's been. You can hope that wins do eventually come. You can hope that when the calendar changes to November that the season is totally lost. You can hope they beat Temple on Saturday.

Hey, maybe hope has returned to UConn football after all?

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