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Viewpoint Edsall has no time to look back at UConn’s past mistakes

September 13, 2018

STORRS — The online headlines blared the message.

From Hearst Connecticut Media: “UConn’s Randy Edsall bemoans the state program was left in when he returned in 2017.”

From the Hartford Courant: “Randy Edsall Decries State of UConn Program.”

“It’s just a shame what has happened from 2011 to ’17,” Edsall said.

During his state-of-the-team, bewailing-of-the-program soliloquy Tuesday, Edsall told reporters, “We’re doing everything we can but if somebody thinks we’re going to take some fairy dust, just sprinkle it and all of a sudden it’s going to change, you might as well go and keep drinking alcohol or something because this isn’t easy …”

Nobody said it was going to be easy. Nobody.

I just don’t remember Edsall talking like this when he was 3-4 last season in Year One.

Before the season opener, Edsall talked about the challenge of the great number of young players on his two-deep roster. He made a really small O with his thumb and forefinger and said, “You get a little bit closer to game time and that sphincter gets a little bit, you know, tighter with some of these young kids.” The quote spread across the nation with an AP report.

As the Huskies prepare to face FCS team Rhode Island on Saturday, after his team had been outscored 118-24 in its first two games, Edsall may want to heed some of his own words. Don’t let that, you know, thing get a little tight.

Edsall held his hands far apart after the 56-17 opening loss to UCF to describe the difference in talent level. Following the 62-7 loss at Boise State, he held them even farther apart to describe how far the program dropped the six years he was away. Fine.

Yet to start down the “shame” path made me wince.

Edsall needs to be the most patient man, the best teacher on campus.

You get two mulligans, Randy. At this point we don’t need a continuing history lesson in UConn’s football tomfoolery.

The two embarrassing opening routs against top-20 teams are nothing more in the great rebuild than two embarrassing routs. Yes, the difference between Boise State’s 818 offensive yards and UConn’s 193 is the largest of any major college game in the 21st century. It was a spitshow. But Edsall has been around the block a thousand times. He has big enough shoulders to handle that stuff. Maybe he just needs to be reminded.

The measuring sticks that matter arrive in the mail this week. And once you get past Memphis and USF, there are five winnable games at the end of this season. UConn is 119th in RPI ratings right now. The final five opponents range between 90-104. Let’s hold off on the shame until all precincts report.

I keep wondering why Edsall said all that he did Tuesday.

Fourteen games into RE2, despite seven L’s in a row, there have been no real media punches thrown at him. Is he needlessly being paranoid?

Is he feeling internal pressure that we don’t know about? If so, what the hell? We can drill Edsall for bolting for Maryland in the middle of the night — heaven knows, we did — but he didn’t invent the next six losing seasons and empty the Rent.

Is he trying to give himself an even softer landing in case, gulp, the Huskies lose to FCS Rhode Island? If this W on the schedule turns into an L on the field, Edsall shouldn’t be looking at history. He should be looking in the mirror.

Or was he just having an emotional moment after the Boise fiasco? If so, he’s allowed that one swing at the Pasqualoni-Diaco piñata. Now put down the stick. That’s history is an ugly, messy road to go down, too ugly and messy for a coach in midseason.

In the interest of sobriety and fairy dust, I present these two facts.

Edsall is 1-31 lifetime, UConn and Maryland, against ranked teams.

Since UConn became an FBS-level program in 2002, Edsall has never lost to a FCS team.

There is great romance in winning at Notre Dame, getting to the BCS Fiesta Bowl, etc. The fact is the only Top 25 team Edsall ever beat was USF in 2007. Edsall wins the games he is supposed to win. He is not Nick Saban. He was brought back for a return to football respectability and that’s a stern task. Leave national titles to basketball.

At his best, Edsall has proved to be an organized builder and capable leader. He is the adult that Diaco wasn’t. When he talks about a “massive rebuild,” he is smart enough not to say pay no attention to the scoreboard.

At his worst, Edsall will finger-point at others not named Edsall.

He’s never been afraid to fib for his cause, leading me a decade ago to call him Coach Pinocchio. When asked in mid-August about practicing four-down linemen, Edsall said the only intent was to prepare for certain opponents. With so many bigger problems facing him, I can chuckle at such fibs now.

Folks forget he started 12-30 until that four-game winning streak to end 2002. He was allowed wide, aircraft carrier-berth to build, slowly, surely. Without similar berth this time, I can’t see it working.

That doesn’t mean UConn fans don’t need to see tangible growth. That doesn’t mean Edsall can’t be questioned. Granted, stuff like why a Diaco, a linebacker guru, didn’t stock the linebacker shelf is maddening. There are only two fifth-year seniors on Edsall’s roster for a reason. There are so few junior college transfers for a reason. Jordan Swann left. Brice McAllister left. Nate Hopkins left. Seniors graduated and didn’t use a fifth available year. Sometimes Edsall makes it sound like somebody held a gun to his head and forced him to start 18-year-olds. He is building the program in his image and likeness. His program decisions lead to his team decisions. Own it.

Edsall brought in Billy Crocker to run the 3-3-5 defense and Edsall took great pains to explain how the system fit talent he could recruit. Last year was a defensive disaster. Still, moving to a four-man front in camp is especially ambitious when you are starting seven freshmen on defense.

“I looked at our personnel that we have, the young men we brought in … I said this is the direction I think we have to go,” Edsall said.

“From the body types we had that’s probably what would fit better than what I’ve done for so many years,” Crocker said.

Transition difficult?

“Yeah, it was,” Crocker said. “They’re still learning. But it’s best for the team.”

Got to get bigger. Got to get faster. Got to get more experienced. That has become the real mantra instead of Rise As One. The Huskies haven’t stopped anybody. They can start by stopping URI.

UConn gets two mulligans.

Now, no shame, it’s time to get busy with the future of UConn football.

jeff.jacobs

@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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