Randy Edsall will officially be introduced as the head football coach of the University of Connecticut on Friday–again.
It is a good move–and spare me the whiners who complain that Edsall did UConn wrong by leaving for Maryland six years ago. You can argue the method–which even Edsall admits could have been done better–but NO ONE can find fault with the opportunity to move up the ladder in the coaching heirarchy, which was what Edsall was doing.
UConn, as a member of the Big East, which had been imploding with family squabbles which threatened its existence–and eventually led to its demise–was not in the same class as Maryland, Miami or Michigan, the three schools that Edsall was involved with in 2010.
Edsall went to Maryland, which didn’t work out, but that is a story for another day.
Edsall and UConn is the story of the day and there are stories to tell which date back almost 20 years.
I remember what happened in December of 1997 when then Boston College athletic director was searching for a new football coach and was conducting his business in New York City where he was attending the annual College Football Hall of Fame dinner.
Gladchuck left midtown and headed for a meeting with a candidate at an airport hotel near LaGuardia. That candidate was Randy Edsall, who was then on the staff of Tom Coughlin, who was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The interview went so well that Edsall went back to Jacksonville and told Coughlin he had the job.
Coughlin, who very well may again be the Jacksonville head coach, smiled and told Edsall to wait for a moment as he called Kevin Gilbride, the Jaguars offensive coordinator and told him to come to his office.
When Gilbride walked into the room, Couglin told Gilbride to repeat the conversation the two men had a few minutes earlier. “”I think I have the Boston College job,” said Gilbride, who had also interviewed with Gladchuck.
A week later Gladchuck hired Tom O’Brien.
A year later, again in December, Edsall had just finished his first year as the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
A thousand miles to the north at a basketball game between UMass and UConn, then UConn athletic director Lew Perkins was talking to me about the plans UConn was making to elevate its football program from the 1AA to the 1A level (Now FCS to FBS).
“”What do you think of Randy Edsall,” Perkins asked me, knowing that I had known Edsall from his days when he was a member of Coughlin’s staff at Boston College. “”Good guy, good coach,” I said.
“I think so too,” said Perkins, with a smile.
Two weeks later Edsall was introduced as the head coach at UConn.
A few years later, I remember talking to Edsall in the football offices at UConn–a trailer adjacent to Gampel Pavillion, which was next to the football field UConn was using for its home games, a field which wouldn’t be opulent for junior high schools.
He talked about the vision he saw of a new football stadium, of taking UConn not only into the Big East, but into national contention. “Anything,” said Edsall, “was possible, if you worked hard enough.”
I remember watching UConn face an Oklahoma team in the Fiesta Bowl, which was a yawn for Oklahoma, but a major accomplishment for the UConn program.
Edsall had done it over a 10 year period, putting UConn football in the national spotlight. The Huskies had the new stadium, they had state of the art facilities, but they had also hit a ceiling. Perkins had left for Kansas and some of the focus had disappeared.
Edsall knew he had come to a crossroads. Three etablished programs–Miami, Maryland and Michigan–all were looking for coaches and Edsall was on all of the lists.
His departure–in the middle of the night, leaving his team to fly home without its coach, caused a mini tsunami of bad will at UConn. What was lost in translation was this basic fact: UConn football was better, much better when Edsall left than when he arrived
I remember talking and texting messages with Edsall, who had moved to a position on Jim Caldwell’s staff with the Detroit Lions during the past several months about the state of college football.
I remember him talking about the frustration level caused by the influx of money and attention which had turned college football into a bottom line business rather than a sport.
I remember him saying that he wouldn’t mind being a head coach again–but at a level where coaching was still mainly coaching, perhaps at the Ivy League level.
I remember kidding him about returning to UConn, if the program did not turn around under the guidance of Bob Diaco, who was in his third year attemping to do something that had not been done since Edsall left–make the Huskies winners.
I remember Edsall pausing and saying that he would have to think about that, because he still had ties to UConn, still felt part of its heritage, much of which he had helped create.
And then I remember on Monday when UConn announced that Diaco had been fired. I texted Edsall, who was in Dallas for the Lions game against the Cowboys and asked him if it was “time to come home to Storrs”.
Those messages usually prompt some wise ass remark, but this time there was silence and then, “I’m preparing for Green Bay” the Lions opponent on Sunday in a game which will decide the NFC Central Division title.
Unusual, but perhaps also a clue in the non-denial, denial mode of “All the President’s Men”.
And finally I remember on Wednesday, when the final confirmation that Edsall had been chosen (not from Edsall) and I texted him with a simple message, “Welcome back.”
Edsall is returning to a program which is coming off a 3-9 season and is not overstocked with talent.
It is in a conference–the American Athletic Conference–which is not part of the Power 5 group. UConn is still recovering from the latest rejection for moving up, which came when the Big 12 chose not to expand.
Remaining as a member of the AAC is not the move the Huskies wanted to make since the revenue projection forecasts are on a downward trend. There remains a sentiment to move all the other sports to the Big East.
But UConn remains committed to the AAC simply because there isn’t a better place right now for the Huskies to succeed in football. And make no mistake Randy Edsall can bring them back to a level in which they can compete for a championship.
He is the right person in the right place at the right time.