Mike Foley isn't one to pull any punches and he wasn't about to start on Wednesday as he was available for interviews for the first time since being the only assistant retained by new head coach Bob Diaco.
When UConn's eventful season came to an end with a win over Memphis, Foley figured his chances of spent a ninth season coaching with the Huskies were rather bleak. He knew that Diaco, a year removed from being the architect of a defense which powered Notre Dame to the BCS championship game, was going to want to bring in his own group of guys. Diaco certainly delivered on that as he cleaned house at nearly every level. Foley was the only one left standing when the dust had settled as he will coach the offensive line which is something he has done at UConn for 5 1/2 seasons.
"You get into a situation that you know as a coach that things are happening and probably not in a real positive way, job possibilities coaches have to know that the chances of being retained were not very high and that is just the way it is," Foley said. "You know it when you get into it. When they hired Coach Diaco. It was a situation where we sat down and talked, I told him I wanted to be here and the fact that UConn could be a place where we could be successful, we have done it in the past. We slipped back a little bit but definitely could be a place we could win or I wouldn’t even have gone into the interview if I thought that way. I was excited when I met him, he has great energy and had a lot of great ideas on how to improve the program and take us forward so I am excited about it."
Less than a week after Diaco was named the head coach news broke that Foley was going to be the only assistant coming back which not only left Foley with a tremendous amount of work to do in attempting to keep the committed recruits in the fold but also left him with a sense of sorrow seeing his fellow staff members looking for work.
"It is tough," Foley said. "Unfortunately that is a part of the business. You hate to say it that way but it is. Some of these guys had young families with kids in school and I have been through that before but you know the business and stay in touch but those guys are all very good people, they are great people, very good coaches and you know good things will happen for them."
Foley coached the offensive line at UConn from 2006-10 and even after Donald Brown ran for 2,083 yards during the 2008 seasons and Jordan Todman ran for 2,883 yards in the following two seasons, Foley was relieved of his offensive line coaching duties when Paul Pasqualoni brought in long-time friend George DeLeone to coach the line. All Foley did in his new stint coaching tight ends is help develop Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt into professional players. This past season he had an untested group of tight ends which he worked with but when UConn opened the season with four straight losses, Pasqualoni and DeLeone were fired and Foley returned to work with the offensive line. It was pretty evident to anybody watching that the play of the line, despite some injuries, improved dramatically with Foley in charge. That was one of the factors resulting in Diaco bringing Foley back.
"Coach Mike Foley is here because every single person I talked to, not one person, I talked to a lot of person did not have Mike Foley at the top of their list when asked ‘you are going to your alma mater, you are leading your alma mater and who are you taking with you?’" Diaco said. "He has been a great fit so far and he is going to be a great blend with the rest of the staff."
Foley's players were among those who vouched for him which is something that meant the world to him.
"It makes you feel great," Foley said. "It was probably the reason I got hired and it felt great that a lot of people at the university, some players and people within the administration that he talked to had high praise for you, it made you feel great that people feel that way and now you have to go do it.
"Sometimes change is good and I think you had to look at it that way, whether I ended up here or I ended up somewhere else sometimes change is good.
"This is like a new job for me. Yeah, I am going into the same building, I am going to the same office but it is a new staff, a lot of new faces, fresh faces and the offensive line I know all those guys but we graduated a bunch of guys and it is going to be, it is not like I have the same five guys coming back and we will kind of roll from there, there is a lot of work to be done. I think there are a lot of good young players who will be good in time. It is the same thing as if I went somewhere else and coached some new guys. We tell our players that we have to fight through the adversity and that is what you have to do."
Four starters are gone. Left tackle Jimmy Bennett and left guard Steve Greene started all 12 games, right guard Tyler Bullock started the final six games of the season while right tackle Kevin Friend was limited to five games in an injured-plagued senior season.
"With Kevin getting hurt Dalton (Gifford) got to play a lot, Dalton towards the end of the year played a lot and did a nice job," Foley said. "Alex Mateas I thought really developed as the year went on and really improved over the year before so you have those two guys and there are some good young players. I think the spring will be important for them and next fall in camp but that is college football, that is the way it is and the next guy has to step up and we have to get them ready to do the things we are going to ask them to do.
"There is definitely talent there and it is a matter of getting some experience. One of the things we tried to do and I went back with the offensive line and that was to make sure that during the individual work that they got a lot of work also, not just the starters but everybody right down to the last guy was getting work so I could evaluate them as players to see what they had and try to develop them. What we did in the two-deep is we rotated because we knew we were going to redshirt some guys so a guy like Kyle Schafenacker had been up and I watched him for a couple of weeks, then we put him down and brought about freshman up to look at them. It had nothing to do with Kyle as a player, I liked him, he was a good player and he is going to be a good player but it more so that I could get a look at somebody else up so I could get a look at somebody else. I think there is some talent there and it has to be developed. With O-linemen, very rarely are any of them ready as true freshmen sometimes even as a redshirt freshman it takes a couple of years in the weight room to develop and that is what we are going."
As I mentioned before, Foley was the lone assistant in place for almost a month meaning he had tremendous responsibility in the recruiting department. I spoke to Milford Academy coach Bill Chaplick a couple of times from the end of the regular season until the time Diaco was hired and pretty much each time I asked him about UConn he would say 'I spoke to Coach Foley last night.'"
Even Foley efforts were not enough to keep the Milford Academy duo of Chasz Wright and Jordan Fuchs from decommitting and committing to Temple and Indiana or Rochester (N.Y.) quarterback Justin Noye flipping to Old Dominion but if not for Foley's efforts, it's highly unlikely that UConn would still have 10 players committed as it does at the current time.
"It is one of those things when you are trying talk to the players and let them know how things are going, know where we are in the process as far as hiring a new coach and also once Coach Diaco was hired he talked to all of those players," Foley said.
So how did his conversation with the recruits go?
"'When’s the staff going to be hired?' You tell them 'don’t get too nervous' so you have to hang in with them and build a relationship. We have a few spots left so we will get on the road and that is what we are doing right now, we are spending a lot of our time on the recruiting piece of it trying to get everybody caught up and get the staff indoctrinated to UConn, get them over to HR (human resources) and at the same time where are we going to be in terms of trying to finish up this recruiting class, the kids that we do have keep them committed and finish up these final few spots."