Edsall produces a good opener
EAST HARTFORD – The departure in the middle of the night was a disaster. The return in the middle of the day was a certified hit.
Randy Edsall Act II as UConn football coach kicked off Friday at Rentschler Field and if you wondered about core interest, the crowd which included players past and present, dignitaries like Dee Rowe, President Susan Herbst and Andy Baylock, was of the overflow variety, dwarfing the number of seats set up.
Let’s be honest here, there were probably more people in the building than at UConn’s last home game against Tulane.
You didn’t expect hecklers here, it wasn’t the venue and if you follow UConn at all you know they are out there at odds with the way Edsall left six years ago and with the choice to bring him back.
The atmosphere was one of comfort with familiarity and the notion that whatever some think of Edsall his track record says he can build a program and did at UConn at one time. Edsall is no unknown quantity and you could sense that mattered, that the goods are here to pull UConn out of what was a football sewer this past season.
But before Edsall can go forward he had to go backward and he knew it. There had to be some mea culpa for leaving in the middle of the night after the Fiesta Bowl without talking to his team to take the job at Maryland which he tried to make us think was Ohio State and Alabama all tied in one pigskin knot.
It was stage one of Act II. It had to be done or this was going to be a butchered beginning. Edsall did not shy away or disappoint. You didn’t get the `I’m sorry,’ is those exact words but you got some heartfelt remorse.
“Almost six years ago I made one of the worse decisions in terms of how I left the University of Connecticut that is something that I have to live with and I’ve lived with,” said Edsall. “I’m not perfect. Everybody makes a mistake. I regret it. It is something that has weighed on me very heavily over the years and I just hope I will be able to earn the trust back from all you wonderful fans because what I’m doing now is I apologize for how I left. It was wrong and I take full ownership and accountability for that and now we’re going to move forward together to grow this program.”
For some it will only take wins on the field for them to begrudgingly forgive. But for Edsall it was the necessary start long before football x’s and o’s take over.
UConn Athletic Director Dave Benedict who drove the decision to remove Bob Diaco and turn to Edsall admitted Edsall’s departure could not be ignored in the quick process to name a successor. But Benedict listens to his head and not his heart. The decision was void of emotion.
“(The departure) was certainly one of the first questions I asked but you know my interest in this was was this something that was a character flaw or a mistake and it was clearly a mistake,” said Benedict. “You heard coach Edsall address it today. It was something you could tell it weighed heavy on him. But I also understand this side of the business and how searches go and how athletic directors at other schools put pressure on coaches and if you want the job you have to come now. I tried to balance that in an unemotional way.”
Benedict, who has known Edsall a very short time made some calls and what he heard especially from NFL people was that if you want to know about college talent Edsall evaluates better than anybody. And that Edsall has the talented knack of turning two and three-star prospects into five-star performers.
There is also the history of the Fiesta Bowl, winning seasons and a program built into a national brand. It didn’t get forgotten.
Edsall said the two of them think alike. Benedict had his man and Edsall had his job that he wasn’t really pursuing.
A clearly emotional Edsall talked about a discussion he had with his wife Eileen about coaching again. He now works with the Detroit Lions as director of football research and the idea of returning to the sidelines at 58 (a very youthful 58) was not on the table. He said UConn would be the only job he would take.
He waxed with misty eyes about his 12 years at UConn and Lottie’s his favorite restaurant in Glastonbury. You would expect Edsall to say he was glad to be back. But, you felt he was glad to back. For another chance to build again and yes, maybe atone for way Act I ended.
This has been a stunningly whirlwind process with Diaco fired on Monday and Edsall hired on Wednesday. There is no staff put together yet. While there was a quick team meeting Friday morning there has been little time for one-on-one contact with the players.
The recruiting period starts in two weeks. Edsall has had no time to watch film.
But, there will be time for all that. The Lions are hoping playoffs and Edsall will be there for their game with the Packers. There will be a division of his new and present duties in the coming days.
For UConn, the football part will come. Edsall needed to sooth some justified sour feelings like the taste of drinking past the due date milk. He did his part. The judgement will always come from what happens on the field. But you have to start somewhere.
Edsall took some necessary care of old business. It won’t placate some only winning will. But it was a start. Act II had an impressive opening.