Defensive mastermind Hank Hughes has been named UConn's interim head coach. Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
In 1946, the Academy Award® for Best Picture went to “Lost Weekend,” director Billy Wilder’s inspired vision chronicling a forgettable few days in the life of an alcoholic realistically portrayed by Oscar® winner Ray Milland.
The title of this popular movie soon emerged in the American lexicon as a paradigm to describe wasted effort or time better spent otherwise.
The UConn football team staggered through a “Loss Weekend” of their own as the New Year dawned in Arizona.
Thankfully, there weren’t any alcoholics involved in the UConn version, save possibly more than a few Husky fans knocking back a couple shots of tequila-laced Arizona tea to soothe their frustrations in the wake of an eventful weekend that grew more and more unsettling even as events unfolded two time zones to the west.
There was the obvious loss on the field, the 48-20 humiliation at the hands of Oklahoma aired on national television. Which could lead to a loss of any recruiting advantage Connecticut might have gained by playing on a national stage in the first place.
There’s an even bigger loss of respect for Big East football – which wasn’t very high to begin with before the game, when sports pundits outside the northeast corridor criticized the conference’s automatic qualifying berth in a BCS Bowl game.
Former UConn head coach Randy Edsall began the fall with the Huskies in Michigan and ended the season as the new coach at Maryland. Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
And then, compounding all that, comes the loss of UConn’s head football coach on Sunday, when Randy Edsall drew up a perfectly executed end-around that got him from Arizona to Maryland without ever having to make a courtesy stop in Storrs.
And, for lots and lots of Husky fans, the Edsall exit elicited a loss of the admiration and good vibes which the former head coach had earned and stockpiled during his 12 years on campus.
Immediately after the Oklahoma game, UConn fans could no ‘Sooner’ say, “Thank you for getting us to a BCS Bowl, Coach,” than Edsall had fled Connecticut, headed a few hundred miles southwest to Maryland, mutating en route from a loyal Husky to a hard-shelled Terrapin.
The whole thing happened so very, very fast – especially for a school whose mascot is a turtle!
Out the back door
Athletic director Jeff Hathaway said he first became aware of Edsall’s imminent departure while the team prepared to leave the University of Phoenix Stadium:
“Randy and I spoke briefly as we always do after games and he went to the media room and I went about my business. I walked out of the building to the buses and I had a text message at 11:25 [p.m. MST and] noticed I had a missed call from Randy at 11:20. Following the text, I talked to Randy and he indicated to me his intentions to interview at the University of Maryland and subsequently Sunday morning at 5:25 the Maryland athletic director reached out to me,” Hathaway said.
Edsall informed school officials that he would not be boarding the team plane when it left Arizona.
The Huskies were 6-0 at Rentschler field during the 2010 season. Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
In fact, he was so anxious to fly to Byrd Stadium on the Maryland campus that he didn’t even tell his players he was leaving.
Because of semester break, more than half the squad had made their own travel plans, but those who were on the team charter say the assistant coaches learned of their leader’s leaving while in mid-air.
According to an unconfirmed report, Edsall held a conference call with players on the plane and apologized for not telling them face-to-face, blaming it all on a spur of the moment decision to take the Maryland job.
Edsall offered this rather disingenuous statement on why he apparently couldn’t even find five minutes to say “thanks for the memories” to the team: “I would have liked to see those young men in person, to tell ‘em. Wasn’t able to do that. Tried to do the next best thing.”
By making the move when he did, the coach also avoided any probing questions from the Connecticut media, who also were flying home from the Fiesta Bowl and were in no position to do any meaningful reporting on this breaking news story.
Edsall, the 2010 co-Big East Coach of the Year, replaces the 2010 Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year, Ralph Friedgen, who was fired on Dec. 29 by Maryland AD Kevin Anderson.
Anderson, who took over as athletic director four months ago, decided to replace Friedgen even though the 10-year head coach had guided the Terps to an 8-4 record this season.
Looking for a new head coach
Hank Hughes, who has led the Huskies defense for a decade, is UConn’s interim head coach.
In a prepared statement, Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway said he would replace Edsall with a “coach who can best lead and continue to enhance this football program into the future, (someone) dedicated to excellence in the classroom, on the football field, and in the community.
“We are committed to continuing the winning tradition which defines UConn athletics and will move as expeditiously as possible to identify the individual who reflects the ideals of our institution.”
Which is probably AD-speak for “we won’t hire another Jim Calhoun who’ll get the Huskies in the NCAA doghouse.”
To his credit, Edsall not only demanded excellence between the end zones but also in the school zones; his players consistently lead national lists in graduation rates.
According to the most recent NCAA stats, Connecticut football had a 77 graduation success rate, certainly a far cry from, oh, let’s say, Oklahoma, whose GSR was lower (44) than the 48 points the Sooners scored against UConn in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Peter Principal applied to football?
In 2009, when UConn won in South Bend, thereby effectively hammering the proverbial nail in Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis’s coffin, Edsall’s name was bandied about as being on the short list to replace Weis, a job eventually given to Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly.
Former UConn football head coach Randy Edsall talks with an ESPN reporter - when he decided to make his abrupt departure, most of the media was on a flight home. Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
And now with Edsall headed to Maryland, this marks the third Big East coach in three years to jump from what many consider to be a sinking ship, at least when it comes to football, even with the recent annexation of TCU.
By the way, Randy, you might want to ask Kelly and Rich Rodriguez over at Michigan how the moves are working out for them.
Considered wunderkinds when they were leading Cincinnati and West Virginia to BCS Bowl games, Kelly and Rodriguez could soon be the newest examples of college football’s implementation of the Peter Principle.
Not that long ago, all one heard about the two coaches was “hiring” but now, too often, their names are found in the same sentences with the word “firing.”
Still, Edsall might be able to restore fan interest at Maryland much as he had in Connecticut where in 12 seasons, Edsall compiled a 74-70 record, including a 3-2 slate in bowl games.
Perhaps even more importantly, during his tenure, he developed a program that built and filled the 40,000-seat Rentschler Stadium in East Hartford.
After taking over a division I-AA program in 1999, Edsall gave birth to an FBS team a few years later and this season guided the team to a berth in a BCS Bowl game. And even though they were overpowered by Oklahoma, bottom line is, they were being overpowered in a BCS Bowl game.
But even with the on-field success, there were some off-field problems the past couple years: This year, starting quarterback Cody Endres was banished in mid-season for alleged misuse of drugs; a year ago, junior corner back Jasper Howard was stabbed to death during an on-campus argument with a non-student.
Despite the awkward way in which he handled his exit, Edsall always did appear to be a sincere man who had his players’ well-being at heart, especially off the field.
His continuing sadness over the death of Jasper Howard seemed genuine and not contrived, even to the point of keeping the corner back’s locker unchanged for 14 months – a mini-memorial to Jazz, his game-time belongings untouched from the way he had left them upon leaving the locker room after the Louisville game, heading toward the dance at the student union and to an untimely death.
Changed their tune
Ironically, some of those Husky fans bemoaning Edsall’s departure at the conclusion of an 8-5, BCS-Bowl-berth campaign are the same vocal vultures who were screaming for Edsall’s ouster at mid-season, when the team had fallen to the depths of 3-4, following that 26-0 debacle in Louisville.
Did those negative vibes emanating from certain pockets of the state in late October both surprise and upset a strong-willed man who may have been surprised that some Husky fans had turned tail on him so quickly – even though he’d done so much for the program over the past 12 years?
Is that when Edsall seriously began considering looking at some of those tempting offers that had been coming his way ever since that double overtime win in South Bend the year before?
Remember, Edsall was among only a handful of coaches nationwide who had been with the same team for more than a decade.
And only two weeks after the shutout in Louisville, Edsall was back in Hartford announcing the formation of the Randy Edsall Golf Classic to benefit “at-risk” school kids in the Capitol area.
Now, with Edsall’s departure, it may very well be the UConn football program that is at risk.
What about Hughes?
“We will be quick, but not hurry and we will be diligent but also cognizant of the recruiting period and the need to put permanent leadership in place,” said Hathaway, refusing to place an “artificial time-line” on the selection of a new coach. “We aren’t going to rush or hurry a decision that is going to impact our football program for the next five years.
“At the same tim, I am aware of the importance of this recruiting period and I feel very good about the work that coach Hughes and the other coaches are doing on the road,” he said.
For his part, interim Head Husky Hughes has made no bones about the fact he’d like to permanently replace Edsall, pointing to the success of TCU and Boise State after those programs “promoted from within.”
Hughes said he and the other coaches were as surprised as anyone by the suddenness of their leader’s leaving – but it wasn’t unexpected.
“We didn’t bat an eye. In this business you are combat ready, it is a game of constant transitions, just like life. There is nothing guaranteed,” he said. “Randy had been up for other jobs before and we aren’t in the know as assistants because that isn’t our job. We are out there laying bricks for the program. But you move on.”
As much as Hughes would downplay Edsall’s sudden separation scenario, the move, coupled with the swift ejection of Friedgen by the Terps’ neophyte AD, begs the question as to whether something fishy is going on in Maryland – and it’s got nothing to do with those delicious crab cakes.
Posted Jan. 10, 2011