Another off season about to begin, another crossroads for the University of Connecticut football program.
That became obvious on Monday when UConn athletic director David Benedict fired football coach Bob Diaco, after three less than productive seasons which produced an 11-26 record, including a 3-9 posting this season, some eternal bickering, a rising flow of ill will and a future which looked more bleak than bright.
The only real surprise was that the decision was not made immediately after the end of the regular season last month. Sources at UConn said that Benedict wanted to give Diaco a little more time to make some moves which would fix a program that was broken.
But according to sources at UConn when there seemed to be no signs that Diaco would make some moves which Benedict and others in the administration felt needed to be made, the termination process accelerated.
Although the announcement was made on Monday, Diaco will not officially be terminated until Jan 2, a move which will save UConn $1.2 million in buying out the remainder of Diaco’s contract.
Sources at UConn say that Benedict has a few names on his ‘call list”’, suggesting that the search will not take long.
But that begs another issue which the next UConn FB coach must accept. The future of UConn football is as murky as the search for someone to replace Diaco.
The failure of the Huskies to latch on to a Power 5 conference in the Big 12 last fall was a set back, mitigated only by the fact that the Big 12 didn’t pick ANY school.
Which left the Huskies in the uncomfortable position of choosing between remaining in the American Athletic Conference in all sports with a projected diminishing television revenue stream looming or making a move to rejoin the Big East in most other sports, without a real home for college football. And that move would also not generate a great deal of additional revenue.
The dilemma that Benedict and the UConn administration face is accepting the fact that UConn football might never be the signature athletic program UConn had hoped for when the decision was made to move from the FCS (1AA) to the FBS (1A) level in 2002.
One of the first questions that any coaching candidate that Benedict interviews must ask will be about the long range future for UConn football, in terms of not only commitment, but in which league they will compete.
Not being part of a Power 5 conference is a formula for financial failure and UConn has now been rejected by the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.
Understanding all of that, Benedict still should have more than a few qualified candidates.
Included in the initial group of names which have been mentioned are: Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who has head coaching experience at Fordham and was an offensive coordinator at UConn.
Former Huskie coach Randy Edsall, who guided the Huskies through the pot holes of transition from FCS to FBS football, got them to the Fiesta Bowl and then left to become the head coach at the University of Maryland, much to the dismay of many UConn backers, who felt Edsall did a poor job in the way he departed.
The bottom line is that Edsall still found a way for UConn to reach the major bowl level. Edsall is currently on Jim Caldwell’s staff with the Detroit Lions.
Former UConn and BC defensive coordinator and current Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, who proved his value this season by bringing the Michigan defense to a level which had them within a double overtime loss to Ohio State of being a contender for the national championship.
And then there is the wild card of the group former LSU coach Les Miles who has the pedigree to win at the highest level, and is ready to resume coaching after being fired at LSU this season.
Whether any of those coaches could be enticed to come back to UConn will be a question which will be answered within the next several days. Moorhead already has stated that he is content to stay at Penn State.
There will be other candidates who will emerge, of course, but the key issue here is not who the coach will be, but where can UConn football go from here, no matter who is chosen as the next head coach.
And until Benedict can provide a firm answer to that, any move made towards accepting the job could be a risky venture.