Column: A fresh start for UConn Football

Randy Edsall has returned as the head coach of UConn football with a whole host of new coordinators.  They debuted as the new staff on Friday, April 20, 2017 at Renschler Field.  (Amar Batra/ The Daily Campus)

On Friday night at Rentschler Field, Randy Edsall’s second stint at UConn officially began.

After bolting from UConn in 2011 for his “dream job” at Maryland, Edsall is back at the helm of the Huskies after former head coach Bob Diaco—the creator of “The conFLiCT” and an extremely inept UConn offense, amongst other things—was fired in January.

At first glance, Edsall’s reunion with UConn did not seem exciting, but rather lame. It seemed like past success was being used to try and achieve future success. It seemed boring, safe and unoriginal.

But athletic director David Benedict had a plan.

With Edsall as the head coach, Benedict also brought in Auburn coordinator Rhett Lashlee to serve in the same capacity at UConn, but for $250,000 less per year than what Lashlee was making at Auburn. At any price, bringing Lashlee, a Gus Malzahn disciple and one of the more talented offensive coordinators in the country, is fantastic. Landing him for the price Benedict did is practically sorcery.

After Lashlee, Benedict and Edsall brought in Billy Crocker, the defensive coordinator at Villanova, for the same position. Last season, Crocker’s Wildcats defense led the Football Championship Subdivision in defensive points per game with 15 and total defense with just under 260 yards per game.

Since UConn made the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision as a full-time member in 2002, defense has always been the Huskies’ strong suit. Crocker should be able to continue that legacy and will continue to put UConn players in the NFL. Even at FCS Villanova, Crocker helped develop Wildcats defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon into a 2017 All-American and a bona-fide NFL Draft prospect this year.

Crocker and Lashlee’s hirings are great, and make the Edsall hire look a lot better. Say what you want, but Edsall is one of a few that have been able to win football games consistently here at UConn. His experience and old connections combined with young and talented coaches like Crocker, Lashlee and new student assistant Dan Orlovsky offer new perspectives into a constantly evolving game, something Diaco struggled to grasp.

All these coaching changes mean that the style of play will be drastically different. Punts will be returned. Points, a very important part of winning football games, will no longer be kept to a minimum. There may even be a first-quarter touchdown!

Lashlee’s up-tempo offense will likely put weapons like Arkeel Newsome, Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom in positions where they can exceed, regardless of who ends up under center. Crocker should be able to buildup a unit that had flashes of excellence and quality returning players like Vontae Diggs, Luke Carrezola and Jamar Summers, but just spent too much time on the field.

As for special teams, replacing kicker Bobby Puyol won’t be easy, and who knows if anyone practiced returning punts in Diaco’s time at UConn.

Even with all of these changes and the possibility of the elusive first-quarter touchdown, the team may not be great right away. Such is the deal when someone takes over for a coach fired for poor performance. But for the first time in a while, UConn football is on stable ground.

Edsall isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If he does leave or is asked to leave once his buyout reaches $0 in three seasons, there is a good chance Lashlee gets the chance to take over. That sort of continuity is crucial at program that needs to build up sustained success once again, and something that Diaco never offered, first because he was a hot commodity by other schools and later because he just was not a good head coach.

Over the course of Friday’s game, the upcoming season, and really, the next few years, it will be easy to compare to Edsall’s second stint to Diaco’s time. It’s not worth it.

While Diaco brought the program to a bowl game, he did more damage than success. Comparing the two eras, which will have different offenses, defenses and hopefully results, sets the bar too low for Edsall. After all, this is the man that took UConn to its only BCS bowl appearance. A College Football Playoff appearance is unlikely any time soon, but it should be a goal. So should winning the American Athletic Conference.

Edsall has a rare chance to redeem himself (and the program) in the eyes of UConn fans with his second stint at UConn, but we can’t compare his successes or failures to those of Diaco. He has a chance to rewrite his own legacy, and that began Friday night.


Dan Madigan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.