Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New offensive coordinator no stranger to UConn's Bob Diaco

Bob Diaco has proven that he is one loyal person in his brief time running things at UConn.

With the exception of holdover offensive line coach Mike Foley, every assistant coach on his first staff with the Huskies worked with Diaco at one time. Following some major issues with the offensive line during the 2014 season which was a major reason why the Huskies ranked near the bottom in the national rankings in almost every offensive category, Foley was not retained. Diaco knew pretty much who he wanted to add to the offensive staff.

When the dust settled, Foley's departure was far from the only change on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Cummings, the offensive coordinator a season ago, was moved to work exclusively with the offensive line, Don Patterson went from working with the quarterbacks to coaching tight ends, Wayne Lineburg went from mentoring receivers to quarterbacks while former running backs coach David Corley is now coaching receivers. Frank Verducci, who has worked with five different NFL teams, was brought in to be UConn's offensive coordinators and work with the running backs.

Today was the first time Verducci and the other assistant coaches were made available to media since the 2014 season ended and he addressed his relationship with Diaco which dated back more than 25 years when his father coached Diaco's brothers in high school. I asked Verducci if it was the chance to run his own offense or the opportunity to work with Diaco that resulted in him coming to Connecticut and he said his chance to coach alongside Diaco was a major determining factor.

"I have known him since he was 15 years old and it's almost, I wouldn't say a father, but a big brother and uncle watching him rise through the ranks," Verducci said. "We share a common vision. For me to be able to come in here and mesh that vision with his and carry that vision to the offense, I am excited about that.

"His father and my dad were best friends, his older brothers played their entire high school career for my dad so I have known his family forever it seems like. I have watched his career and I couldn't be more proud of him."

So what attributes does Diaco possess that will make him a successful head coach?

"He is the most sincere guy I have ever worked with," Verducci said. "He is going to tell you the good and the bad, now it is up to you to digest it and move forward from there. He has tremendous energy and he has what all the great coaches have, he has tremendous passion. He has, for a lack of a better term, the complete package. We all share his vision and our job is to impart the message.

"He is truly a self-made man. He got started as a graduate assistant when I was at Iowa. I had hoped in some way that we would work together at some point and this is just a wonderful situation to share in his vision. I was aware there were going to be some changes on the staff and I followed the season closely, I understood what the difficulties had been so we talked about it. Coach is very big on chemistry and it was evident when I came here."

Verducci will have no easy task. In Diaco's first season at UConn the Huskies ranked dead last among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in red-zone offense, was 123rd out of 125 teams in total offense and the offensive numbers for passing yards and third-down conversions as ranked near the bottom of the rankings. When you factor in that the Huskies lost their top two
receivers and most experienced offensive linemen to graduation.
While he is in the early stages of getting to know the players he will build the offense around, he has resisted the temptation to form any preconceived notions of what he has to work with by pouring over hours of tape from UConn's forgettable 2014 season.
"One of the things I learned in professional football is it isn't really about what you were or what you are going to be, it is about what you are right now," Verducci said. "We are not going to know that until we get them out on the field in the spring. My job is to form the offense. The offense is flexible in that we will play to the strength of the players and try not to ask them to do things they are not capable of doing yet."

Verducci was with the Cincinnati Bengals when Corey Dillon broke the NFL's single-game rushing record and with the Dallas Cowboys when Emmitt Smith became the league's all-time leading rusher. He admitted that a power running game is something he wants to establish. However, the true look of the offense won't start being displayed until spring practice starts on March 7.

"How we get there will depend on the talent available on Saturdays and what their strengths are," Verducci said. "It may not always be a fullback, it may be a second tight end or a third tight end. The beauty of this offense is the offense allows us to create matchups and my job is to find the matchups.
You can see their movement skills in the out of season conditioning program and the thing is you don't have five of the same guy. You have a skill set here, a skill set there and another skill set. The challenge there is to play to their strengths but not so rigid that when Arkeel (Newsome) is in the game it is an outside run, when Ron (Johnson) is in the game you know it is an inside run, when Max (DeLorenzo) is in the game you know it is a pass so you have to be able to mix it up and have to work on the deficiencies that they have. You can't just work to their strengths, if Arkeel is a great outside runner but not great in pass protection, he has to get better in pass protection. You'd like a guy to be the lead dog in the pack and I would hope that competition brings that out but if not, we will play to their strengths."

With Matt Walsh moving from fullback to tailback, Jazzmar Clax is the only fullback on the roster. Verducci said that DeLorenzo could see time at fullback.

"It is all in how you package it," Verducci aaid. "Is Max a fullback or it he a second tailback in the game? He has a unique skill set that hopefully we can maximize and hopefully improve him as a player of things that maybe he doesn't do great right now. Everything he has shown me to this point is he is willing to do that."

He also views the shifting in coaching responsibilities as something that could benefit him and the staff.

"All of those guys have a new opportunity and really my attitude it is the strength of this staff.," Verducci said "If I have a question with running backs, I will go straight to David Corley. If David has a question with the receivers, he has a great resource in Wayne. We have three coordinators who were on the offensive staff so I know I have great resources. To me this is a absolutely a collective effort."


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