Monday, December 26, 2016

Diaco's time is up at UConn

I have always believed that a coach deserves a four-year recruiting cycle when taking over a program especially one that was in as much disarray as UConn was gig when former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was brought in to turn things around.

However, I will say that I believe UConn AD David Benedict made the right choice in cutting Diaco loose or at least announcing plans to do just that on Jan. 2 so that the buyout drops down to $3.4 million from its current mark of $5 million.

Time will tell if this was simply a case of Benedict (who was not at UConn when Diaco was hired) was not the guy he thought could get things headed in the right direction or if it was more of a case of Diaco holding firm on how he wanted to run his program including the control of the staff and if that ultimately led to today's big news.

Diaco was operating as if he was coming back and the six commitments in the incoming freshman class this month is a perfect indication of that. I would hope that Diaco was operating in good faith at the time he hosted these recruits, offered and accepted their commitments and I do believe that is the case.

Before I left for vacation, I did some poking around and was hearing rumblings about alumni with deep pockets ready to ante up in order to get Diaco out but I wasn't ready to go to print with what was little more than idle chatter but obviously there was been unrest and dissatisfaction (to say the least) about how things transpired in year three of Diaco's tenure.

The ironic part is that a year ago today I was at Tropicana Field to watch UConn play Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The week leading up to that game was one of such positive vibes as Diaco guided the Huskies to a bowl game in just his second season on the stretch of a three-game winning streak. Now UConn is back in the market for the man who can get this program turned in the right direction.

Benedict has kept the media at arm's length, particularly since the end of the football season so it is hard for me to get a read on what direction he is going to go on his most noteworthy hire during his brief time in Storrs but he's made the rounds including stops at Minnesota, Arizona State and Auburn so we'll see if he pulls in a coach with ties to one of his former stops. It goes without saying that he knows he needs to act rather quickly on this to avoid a recruiting meltdown.

I am not going to turn this into a rip job on Diaco even though I've expressed concerns about the direction the program is going and was hardly a fan of his conservative coaching style. Obviously you don't accomplish the things he did at places like Cincinnati and Notre Dame without being a good football coach. Time will tell whether Diaco has what it takes to be a head coach but it was clear early on that he had a work to do growing into the head coaching gig.

There are some significant graduation losses most notably receiver Noel Thomas, safety Obi Melifonwu, punter Justin Wain, kicker Bobby Puyol, linebacker Matt Walsh, defensive tackle Mikal Myers and offensive linemen Rich Levy and Andreas Knappe.

One interesting aspect of today's events is that we will get to see what kind of recruiter Diaco was with another person at the helm of the UConn program.

There were some of his recruits in prominent roles - linebacker Vontae Diggs (the top returning tackler), receivers Hergy Mayala and Tyraiq Beals, tight end Tyler Davis, offensive linemen Matthew Peart and Ryan Crozier, running back Ron Johnson and quarterback Donovan Williams top that list. But many of his recruits were still in the developmental stage and just how good they are will go a long way in determining how quickly the new football coach can get things rolling.

Assuming they all stay, this rising senior class doesn't lack for talent. The true indication of how effective Tommy Hopkins was at guard came when he was lost for the season and the coaching staff scrambled to try to replace him (much like Tommy Myers the season before), Myers and Alec Bloom have been under utilized in the passing game while Arkeel Newsome and Johnson are a potentially explosive 1-2 punch at running back. Defensively, Luke Carrezola, Foley Fatukasi, Junior Joseph, Jamar Summers, Cole Ormsby, Diggs, Cam Stapleton (the most underutilized player on the team in my opinion) and Brice McAllister are all talented playmakers. When you factor in transfers E.J. Levenberry and Tre Bell and there could be nine senior starters. I liked what I saw from young defensive linemen Kevin Murphy and Sheriden Lawley during the season as they seemed to get better each week even if it didn't show up in the final stats on game days. There are concerns at safety but if that gets taken care of, this has the makings of a pretty solid defense.

Different regimes went with what they viewed as a safe hire in established winner Paul Pasqualoni and an energetic young coach in Bob Diaco. The hope is that Benedict chosen somebody between those two extremes and if it is not somebody with an offensive background, bringing in a top-notch play caller in addition to a strong offensive line coach would be pretty high on the priority list in my opinion.


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