Thursday, December 12, 2013

Diaco ready to hit ground running at UConn

Everything I've heard about new UConn football coach Bob Diaco was he was energetic, charismatic and a walking sound bite.

Well, he did not disappoint during his introductory press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Both Diaco, who was the Notre Dame defensive coordinator for the last four seasons, and UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel stated the final details of the hiring of Diaco were not done until somewhere between 1:15-1:30 Thursday morning. But Diaco showed no signs of grogginess as he spoke in Latin, made references to Pavlov’s dog as well as St. Augustine, Garth Brooks and Knute Rockne.

“I’ve been thinking about UConn football and their rise, so when did I think about the UConn job?” Diaco said. “For as long as I could be thinking about college football.”

Diaco will be paid $1.5 million in 2014 and his salary increases by $50,000 each season during the 5-year contract. If he is still employed at UConn on Dec. 31, 2018, he will receive a $500,000 bonus.

The first time he spoke with Manuel he left no doubt about his intentions. He could have played it cool as a coordinator at a tradition-rich program could certainly feel was their right to do. Instead, he made sure Manuel knew that he wanted this job, really wanted this job.

Diaco wasn't at Notre Dame when the Huskies went to South Bend and beat the Fighting Irish 33-30 in overtime in one of the signature wins in program history. In his lone season at Cincinnati, the Bearcats hosted the Huskies but he does have a recollection of a previous trip to Storrs.

He does have previous experience playing at UConn as he mentions in this video clip.

"We brought a team in here and it was really ugly so I don't want to recap it for too long," Diaco said. "But I do want to say that we were driving these buses and it was packed. The grills are going and the music is playing and people are hollering at the buses. It was a hostile, energetic environment."

Diaco said he did not pay attention to rumors about front-runners for the job.

"The news reports are irrelevant; I don't really care," Diaco said. "You put a list of coaches together that are still living I don't know where I fall. It's not one or two, it's probably 562. I don't know who on the list, maybe it was Parcells or Belichick. I'm just glad for me and my family because we are where we want to be. We're at UConn. That's exactly the right fit for us. I'm exactly the right fit for this team and they're exactly the right fit for me. We're going to grow together and create championships here."

Manuel didn't pull any punches in the press conference saying reports of another candidate (like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi) being offered the job were not accurate.

"I'm going to make this clear to everyone, he was my top choice," Manuel said. "The things that are out there - you all can write whatever you like. This is my top choice. This is the person that I chose. He was the first interview of the day and it was a great interview. He was constantly there on my mind. Read what you like, think what you like. I'm telling you, he was my top choice.

"People talk about spectacular leader; tremendous teacher; passionate about student-athletes, not just the game of football, but about the student-athletes; cares deeply about the places he's been; shows love and affection and doesn't just talk about football; unbelievable recruiter. As I'm sitting there last night, my phone's blowing up. We didn't finish until 1:30 am. I know all of people were saying the deal was done at eight, nine, ten o'clock at night. It hadn't been done until 1:30 a.m. As I'm sitting there, his phone is blowing up with his former players who care deeply and want to say, "Coach, congratulations on the things that I'm hearing." That's important. It solidified that I made the right choice. He presented a great plan. He talked about the academic success of the student-athletes being first and foremost and important. He talked about consistency of championship performance. He talked about the process, he talked about the development of players, on and off the field, of young men. It was clear he knew about the greatness of UConn; the greatness of the state; our history of championship success in football and other sports; and great fans. I'll let him tell you about when he came here last as an opponent of the Huskies and how that resonated with him about this opportunity."

Manuel also said reports that UConn had issues paying enough for a staff were simply not true and he expected the salaries of the assistant coaches to be right near the top of the American Athletic Conference.

Diaco said he is planning to return to UConn on Monday and will interview all the current staff members before moving forward in the process of putting together a staff.

"I don’t want to go in with a predetermined thought in mind," Diaco said. "I made the analogy of going to the the Army with a club and all of a sudden there is somebody at the door trying to show me a howitzer but I am too busy to talk to him so I go marching out there with my club. I don’t have a determined anything, let’s talk and if we put something together, we put it together. If we don’t I am going wish each (person) the best and move on. It might take two days."

Diaco said he wants to get all the committed recruits on the phone while he can still make unlimited calls. He also said his intention is to honor to commitments accepted from players when Paul Pasqualoni was running the show.

"The commitment from the prospect to UConn, if it was done properly, they made a commitment to the institution and that shouldn’t change," Diaco said. "UConn made a commitment to the prospect. If it was done the right way, it shouldn’t change. The defensive and offensive systems are going to be a little bit different but every person has value

"It is an incredible recruiting hotbed. People from all over America come to the Northeast to pluck players. There are more than enough prospective student-athletes to collect about 25 a year for UConn."

Diaco met with the UConn team on Thursday and was thrilled with how that went.

"I am standing there and I am looking at their faces and they are looking at me like ‘who is this guy?’: Diaco said. "I understand it, I do, a couple of coaches in so many years but about five minutes in there, their faces kind of changed and 10 minutes after that it changed again and by the time we were done we were kind of looking at a team."

On Wednesday, Diaco had an itinerary that involved recruiting for Notre Dame. All that changed when Manuel called him. Diaco was on a plane and was instructed to turn his phone off in preparation for takeoff. Mauel was asking him to come up for a final interview.Diaco, who made it abundantly clear to Manuel from the first meeting that he very much wanted the UConn job, didn’t get to inform anybody of his decision to take the job until he accepted the position.

“It was hard, hard, hard,” Diaco said. “It was bad. I don’t know how it happened, I really don’t. Maybe this doesn’t happen on a national level, but it starts blowing up and I am not even close. 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock, I am engaged in a conversation like this and now my butt is (buzzing). I am tying to focus on the president of the university and it is ‘bzz, bzz, bzz.’ Her phone and that phone over there and we all kind of chuckled like, ‘We have to look at our phones.’ It is my wife and my son because I didn’t talk to them, and it is bad. I know the public is consumed and it is an interesting story, but my son watched that on the news, he didn’t hear that from dad last night. I didn’t tell anybody anything until it was done.”

The native of Cedar Grove, N.J., has spent the last four seasons running the defense at Notre Dame and was the architect of a unit which powered the Fighting Irish to last season’s BCS national championship game. Although he has never been a head coach, Diaco was in the running for the Cincinnati job in 2009 and at Boston College last year.A standout linebacker for Hayden Fry at Iowa, Diaco began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1996. His first full-time job was coaching the running backs and working with the special teams at Western Illinois in 1999 and 2000. After stints at Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, Diaco received his first job in a major conference, spending the 2006-08 seasons as the linebackers/special teams coach at Virginia.

After a year coaching in the Big East at Cincinnati, he followed Brian Kelly to Notre Dame in 2010. Diaco helped recruit New Jersey during his time at Notre Dame and has been described as extremely personable and a charismatic leader by those who have dealt with him.

UConn fired Paul Pasqualoni after the Huskies got off to an 0-4 start in his third season at the helm. Manuel waited until after the season-ending 45-10 win over Memphis to begin interviewing candidates.UConn, which ended the season with three straight wins after an 0-9 start, will return quarterback Casey Cochran, who threw for a school-record 461 yards against Memphis, its top two rushers and all but one player who caught a pass this season. However, the Huskies must replace four offensive line starters, six defensive starters — including leading tackler Yawin Smallwood and team MVP Shamar Stephen — as well as kicker Chad Christen and punter Cole Wagner.


Blogger Sean OLeary said...

He was talking about the 2008 game when he was at Virginia, not 2001.

December 12, 2013 10:59 PM 

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