After the necessary firing of Paul Pasqualoni Monday, Warde Manuel said he isn't throwing in the towel on this football season. That's great. That is fine and moving oratory for an 0-4 team.
What the UConn athletic director cannot do, must not do is end up throwing in the towel on the future. In any way, shape or form.
That's what happened last time. That's what Jeff Hathaway did in January 2011 after Randy Edsall deserted UConn in the Arizona desert. Hathaway put together a search committee, paid Chuck Neinas 50 grand as a consultant, promised he would turn over every rock. Then he went out and pulled a rock. Hathaway did prove one thing. What appears to be the safest hire sometimes can be the most dangerous hire. The thought of a UConn coach being hired in part because he could successfully recruit our tiny New England state is so laughable now I'm embarrassed to write this sentence.
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Pasqualoni got paid $5.45 million to go 10-18 before he was fired. Pasqualoni is a good man. Pasqualoni, 64, has a wealth of football experience and knowledge. What he doesn't need is for anybody to light a church candle for him. He's fine. He just couldn't win at Western Michigan last year or Buffalo this year. For $1.5 million in 2011, $1.6 million in 2012, about $1.6 million in 2013 [only the last three months of a base salary of $400,000 is unpaid], and for a $750,000 buyout, wow, at least he could have beaten Towson.
Except for Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, there was only a hint of imagination in the handful of final candidates in 2011. And when it came to the end, there was no imagination at all. So here's a suggestion to anybody who played a role last time on the search/advisory committee. Stay away.
To be fair, McGee, later hired as head coach at UAB, is 4-12 there. So there are zero guarantees on any hire.
I know. I know. You want names! You demand names! Well, I don't have the name of the next freaking coach. I don't believe Manuel has that name. I will tell you who it won't be.
It will not be Turner Gill.
It will not be Lane Kiffin.
Manuel drove back from Western New York to Connecticut Sunday with his wife. He said he was "angry, mad and a whole bunch of things" Saturday night after the 41-12 loss at Buffalo. He said he called UConn president Susan Herbst on Sunday morning and had a fairly brief but deep conversation. After collecting all his thoughts, he said he called her back at 6 p.m. to tell her it was time to make a change.
"She supported that decision," Manuel said.
"I supported him very strongly," Herbst said. "He's the football expert. I think I am good at understanding our fans and alumni."
If Jeff Hathaway was AD and Phil Austin was still president, this decision would not have happened Monday. More than that, if this was Manuel and Phil Austin, I'm thinking it still might not have happened. For UConn fans, this firing seems so painfully overdue. For potential coaching candidates, two years and four games can seem like a quick trigger.
"It entered my mind on the impact it would have on a potential pool," Manuel said.
"The timing of change is never perfect, but change was necessary. We have to have different leadership to get different results."
I'm guessing Herbst was involved a little more than either she or Manuel are letting on. My gut tells me that Manuel would rather have done what he did with Jim Hofher at Buffalo in 2005, fired him with two games remaining and Hofher's agreeing to coach the final games. With an eye on the future of the UConn brand she probably understood that if Manuel was going to make a change in six or weeks anyway, why not get it over in six or eight hours? Let's be clear. Pasqualoni was getting fired by Manuel. It was a matter of when not if.
"I think it shows we're bold," said Herbst, who said booster Robert Burton was not involved in the decision. "[Football] has tremendous gravity."
Manuel said he did not regret not firing Pasqualoni after last season. He said he believed he saw progress with wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh. He said he never envisioned standing up there at 0-4 at this press conference to name T.J. Weist as interim coach and if you did, "Congratulations."
Manuel, a firm believer in academics and good citizenship, was dead honest in saying the firing was all about the Ws and Ls. When asked what it would take for Weist to get the permanent job, he answered, "He has got to win if he wants any shot."
"I want winning," Manuel said. "Our fans want winning. The team wants winning. This is being done because the time for a change is now. Never in conversation with President Herbst did we go, 'We need to do this because of conference realignment purposes.' "
Having said that, unless ACC or another of the mega-conferences comes calling it is my argument that if UConn football is going to be anything special moving forward, it is going to have to take risks. The Huskies have to play great out-of-conference teams in New York or Boston. They have to make a big bang. Try to become the Boise State of the East. Otherwise, the program and eventually UConn athletics could wither on the AAC vine.
"We have great fans," Manuel said. "[The program] doesn't need to be resold. What sells is success. What sells is great effort."
The Huskies are last in the nation in running offense. Only Idaho has allowed more sacks. Offensive line play has been atrocious. Whether it's keeping it simpler, as Weist suggested, or simply beating the man directly in front of you, as Manuel said, the oxen have to be tougher and more cohesive. I would submit Mike Foley, moving back to the offensive line with George DeLeone's getting fired, has the most important coaching job the rest of the season.
Using freshman Tim Boyle at quarterback, Weist said earlier in the day, is in play. In his farewell teleconference Monday night Pasqualoni made it sound like he would have started Boyle against USF in two weeks. That is expected to happen and that is fine and dandy if you want to burn his redshirt, but if the offensive line doesn't block for the kid, somebody ought to be arrested for child abuse.
Weist said he wants the permanent job. It's simple. W's will tell his story. If he goes 8-0, he'll get it. If he goes 0-8 he won't. His audition starts now.
Manuel said he already had conversations Monday with people he trusts on their thoughts about a coach. He said he will make no direct contacts until proper protocol allows. It is a search that will take place for weeks behind closed doors. It is a search that will go a long way in measuring Manuel's ability. Make no mistake. When he emerges with a choice likely in December, it will be career-defining.
Manuel's likely game plan is a top coordinator from a major school, a hot head coach from the MAC or USA, etc., or maybe an NFL position coach. We could throw out 50 names. It would be an exercise in futility at the moment.
The important thing is finding the right man interested in coming to UConn. Let's face it. It's not the blooming rose it was even three years ago. I don't care if the guy is white, black or green. I don't care if he's a defensive or offensive whiz. What matters is that he can coach his butt off and sell the program. One of the fears in 2011, according to a highly placed source, was that McGee would win and bolt after three years. UConn would take that in a heartbeat today. It probably needs that kind of hire at this point to get the next hire who is equally capable yet might stay a decade.
A bunch of fans asked about Eric Mangini, a consultant with the 49ers. It's certainly worth a phone call. There are guys like Rutgers' Ron Prince and Houston Texans' Karl Dorrell who probably are on Manuel's list. Pete Lembo, head coach of Ball State, is a hot name right now. Hey, there could be a coordinator out there whose team runs the table, gets to a BCS bowl and hits the radar in a big way. How many of us knew about Shaka Smart before his Final Four run? So be patient, UConn fans. But be demanding. Everything is on the line.