Football: Huskies turn new page with old face in charge

Head coach Randy Edsall is back at the helm of UConn football. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

2016 was a season to forget for the UConn football team. After a promising 2015 campaign in which the Huskies won six games, including a home victory over previously-undefeated Houston, and made their first bowl trip since the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, everything fell apart.

Under third-year head coach Bob Diaco, UConn won just three games, and finished tied for last in the East division with East Carolina. The Huskies reached their nadir over a three-game span from Oct. 29 to Nov. 19, as they were outscored 92-3 in a trio of miserable offensive performances.

The question after the season: would UConn let go of Diaco, whose extension signed in May tied him to the school through 2020 with a costly buyout to boot?

Athletic director David Benedict waited, and waited, until UConn announced Dec. 26 that Diaco had been relieved of his duties, effective Jan. 2 to trim the amount of the buyout to just $3.4 million.

UConn followed up with an unexpected hire to replace Diaco, bringing in Randy Edsall to lead the program forward. Edsall made his name as the Huskies’ coach from 1999 to 2010, helping UConn make the transition from I-AA to I-A and leading the team to that same Fiesta Bowl before leaving overnight for Maryland after a 48-20 loss to Oklahoma.

Edsall returns after serving as the Detroit Lions’ director of football research last season, and he has put together an impressive staff to assist him in turning things around in 2017.

Joining as offensive coordinator, to help rehabilitate a UConn offense that scored a nation-worst 14.8 points per game last season, is Rhett Lashlee, who previously served in the same role at Auburn. Lashlee has received praise for the creative work he did with head coach Gus Malzahn to run the Tigers’ offense.

Billy Crocker will take over the defensive coordinator role under Edsall, after excelling in the same role at Villanova. The Wildcats led the FCS in scoring defense in 2016, allowing just 15 points per game.

Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (#4) drops back for a pass in the UConn Spring Game on April 21, 2017. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

Edsall, Lashlee and Crocker, along with the rest of the program’s new hires, have already led the 2017 Huskies through spring practice, culminating in the spring game played on Apr. 21. That game showed off a newly-implemented pace for the Huskies’ offense, as UConn hustled to the line of scrimmage after plays and got off the next snap. It was a far cry from the glacial pace of 2016, and Edsall hinted after the game that it could get faster.

But that was just a scrimmage, and Edsall even admitted in the week leading up to the spring game that UConn was not ready to play a game. There are many things to be learned before the Huskies take the field in the fall, and Edsall faces a tough task to get the program back on the right track.

The 2016 season was disastrous, and UConn football must now to pick up the pieces and re-route the program under a new regime. Edsall has his work cut out for him, as he seeks to build a squad that can compete in the American Athletic Conference going forward.


Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.