Column: Rhett Lashlee should be UConn football head coach sooner rather than later

UConn Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee (UConn Athletics)

UConn Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee (UConn Athletics)

Please tell me if this sounds familiar: The UConn football team suffered a degrading loss this weekend. Well, if it doesn’t sound familiar, you haven’t watched much UConn football over the last six years or so, if this sounds familiar, then you know that the Huskies’ coaching on one or both sides of the ball has been the issue each year.

Now, I’m going to start with a little disclaimer. I’m a fan of Randy Edsall as a head coach and I don’t think he deserves to be fired anytime soon, especially just five games into his second stint with the Huskies football program. That being said, as somebody who covers the football team, he hasn’t been all that impressive in his second go-around.

Sure, the offense has been quite impressive at times, but the defense – which was supposed to be the strength of this team – has been absolutely atrocious. I mean, they just gave up 70 points, a school record and 711 total yards. That is just egregious.

Following the game, Edsall called out his team’s heart and effort to play for a full 60 minutes week in, week out.

“Maybe I’m from a different era, I have no idea, but to me it’s what you got right in here,” Edsall said. “That’s all it is. It’s heart. And if you sign up to do something, you give it everything that you got for as long as you can. I don’t know any other way to put it. Either you have it in here (pointing to heart) or ya don’t.”

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2017, file photo, UConn head coach Randy Edsall talks into his headset during the second half of an NCAA college football game against East Carolina, in East Hartford, Conn. Four games into his second stint as head coach at UConn, Randy Edsall says his biggest struggle hasn't been finding talent, but teaching players how to win. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

Edsall calling out his players may be an indictment of their effort, but to me it could be a reflection of the team not really playing as hard for him as they would be for somebody else. Who knows? Perhaps Edsall’s time away from the sidelines has resulted in him losing his touch with players.

Whatever the answer is, I think that UConn athletic director David Benedict should strongly consider promoting offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to head coach sooner rather than later.

Now Benedict, who previously worked at Auburn, already knew Lashlee from the offensive coordinator’s time in the same position at the SEC school. Many people thought the Lashlee hire was very much a coach-in-waiting type of hire, for when Edsall’s three-year contract expired.

This would give Lashlee time to adjust to the culture of football at UConn and further prepare him for life as the head coach. I think that Lashlee, however, could and should be the head coach as early as Benedict sees fit, whether this happens next year or after.

This offense has improved exponentially in just five games under Lashlee. While the team still struggles on a few possessions every now and then, as they did in the second half against Memphis, there is no question that Lashlee is an offensive guru.

Plus, Lashlee is just 34 years old, an age significantly more relatable to collegiate football players than Edsall’s 59—not that 59 is over the hill by any means. Lashlee would also have connections to recruits in the SEC pipeline that could vastly improve the program over the next few years, something former head coach Bob Diaco dropped the ball on during his time at UConn.

For me, the quicker Lashlee’s transition to head coach occurs, the quicker the UConn football program gets back on the map. Since the end of Edsall’s first stint as head coach, bad hires such as Paul Pasqualoni and Diaco – and interim coach T.J. Weist – brought UConn football to new lows.

Edsall really hasn’t gotten off to the best start in his second stint, but to me he really is just the perfect transition coach. He’s the type of hard-working disciplinarian that would set the program on the right path to success in the future.

I’m not saying he can’t still do that. But it increasingly feels like the team would be better off with a youthful coach like Lashlee to usher the program into a new and potentially successful era. Lashlee being promoted to head coach won’t necessarily fix the defensive side of the ball, but he is a big name that could pull a legitimate defensive coordinator from the SEC through his connections and help rebuild the Huskies into a team that can win on both sides of the trenches.

There doesn’t appear to be a downside to the idea of promoting Lashlee either. It wouldn’t be an indictment of Edsall’s meaning to the UConn football program. He will still be a legend in Storrs for turning the Huskies into an FBS school, and he said himself at his introductory press conference that UConn would be the only school he’d coach for again, presumably for a maximum of three years – the length of his contract.

The decision would really be as simple as a move to take UConn football to the heights it hopes to reach. Edsall probably can’t do that in just under three years, with all due respect to him. Lashlee may be able to do it. He just needs to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible, which is why those with the power to do so should consider promoting Lashlee sooner rather than later. It doesn’t need to be tomorrow. It doesn’t even need to be at the end of this season. Just considering the idea soon could be beneficial to the program.


Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishanna.