Huskies buck trend to find success
Connecticut is building a football winner all wrong. What do you expect from a basketball school? The Huskies don't get it. You hire a coach, give him three years, boot him out the door -- keep paying him, of course -- and hire another coach.
Not UConn. They brought in Randy Edsall in 1999 and left him alone. They hired a who's-he guy, and a dozen years later, only his wife could pick him out of a lineup. Edsall is starting his 12th season in a program built from his blueprint. When he arrived in Storrs in 1999, he took over a Division I-AA program. He shepherded the Huskies into I-A, and in their second season, 2003, they went 9-3.
Then the Huskies went into the Big East, and their standards changed. In the next three seasons, UConn never won more than six games. For some reason, the university didn't fire Edsall. Must have been too occupied watching Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma cut down nets. Edsall assembled a team good enough to share the Big East championship in 2007.
Heaven knows how. Look at the players that Edsall brings into Storrs. They don't play in the televised postseason all-star games. They don't call news conferences on signing day and pull a UConn hat out of a bag. You call that recruiting?
"The kid's got to have a work ethic," Edsall said. "If kids [are] willing to work and sacrifice and understand that it's all about the team aspect, and not about the individuals, that's what we're looking for. We're not going after those kids that are all about themselves."
Hello? Who's going to tell Edsall that you don't get the top players that way? When recruits visit, Edsall can show them that will play in a new (2003) 38,000-seat Rentschler Field in East Hartford and practice and meet in the new (2006) Burton Family Football Complex on campus.
But the players who are playas, the kids looking for distractions? The whole UConn campus could pretty much fit in Michigan Stadium, where the Huskies open the 2010 season next week.
"I don't want to negative recruit against myself," Edsall said. "You've been to Storrs, Conn. There ain't a whole lot there. When you don't have the history and tradition that a lot of the other schools have, when you come in to recruit, you better have something to offset that. That's where the facilities come into play. There's nobody in the country that has anything better."
Nice try, coach. These recruits want distractions. All of them are on the way to the NFL, right? That's what every kid who signs a scholarship believes. They're not going to get that in Storrs. Oh, sure, four Huskies went in the first 63 picks in the 2009 NFL draft, including tailback Donald Brown, the first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
Brown led the nation in rushing two years ago. In 2005, Tennessee and Wisconsin thought he should play cornerback. After all, Tennessee signed LaMarcus Coker that year. Wisconsin had Dion Foster. We all know what kind of stars they turned out to be. Who needed Brown?
But Edsall saw a tailback. The Huskies coaches get lucky that way. They sign these nobodies, and then the nobodies turn into very good players.
"The thing we sell," Edsall said, "is when I got here, there was one [UConn] guy in the NFL. We have 13."
This season, senior Lawrence Wilson is already considered one of top NFL prospects at outside linebacker. Wilson went to Paul W. Bryant High in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and couldn't turn the Tide's head. Wilson came to UConn because he had relatives in the state. He's already started 37 games in three seasons.
That Edsall ought to buy a lottery ticket every time he picks up a gallon of milk. They don't get any luckier.
Another reason Edsall is in over his head: he hasn't installed a revolving door on his coaches' offices. Edsall hasn't figured out that big-time coaches go through assistant coaches like Kleenex. Six of his nine assistants are in their fifth season with him. Defensive coordinator Hank Hughes is starting his 10th season. Three assistants came with Edsall to UConn 12 years ago. I'd tell you their names, but they still may be in the witness protection program.
Here's another reason UConn didn't hire the right coach. Edsall is no Lane Kiffin. He doesn't accuse his Big East rivals of cheating. He isn't on "SportsCenter" every time someone sticks a microphone in front of him.
Wait! Edsall does have something in common with Kiffin. The NCAA calls Edsall all the time. Maybe there's hope for him. Oh, what's that? Edsall is the chair of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, one of the most respected jobs in the game.
All I can say is, Edsall hasn't fooled the Big East media. We writers are onto him. UConn has won at least eight games in each of the past three seasons. The Huskies have 16 returning starters this year. Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Cincinnati, the league favorites, all come to Connecticut. But the Big East media picked the Huskies to finish fourth. You can't fool us.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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