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Davis: Time for Diaco to produce at UConn

October 15, 2016: UCONN's Head Coach Bob Diaco during the game between the UCONN Huskies and the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
(Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

The Connecticut football program has wasted no time starting the transition from 2016 to 2017. The Huskies played their final game Saturday and based on Monday’s announcement that UConn will immediately conduct a national search for its next offensive coordinator, any lingering doubts about Bob Diaco’s status as head coach apparently have been erased.

Despite six consecutive losses to end the 2016 season and finishing last among the 128 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring, there will be, at least, a fourth season in the Diaco era.

That does not come as a surprise. Even though it isn’t a popular decision in UConn Country, Diaco said in Monday’s statement that offensive coordinator Frank Verducci, demoted earlier in November and replaced by running backs coach David Corley, will not remain part of the UConn coaching staff. Evaluations of each member of the staff will be conducted by Diaco “in the coming weeks.”

It is assumed that the new offensive coordinator will be given the freedom to assemble his own offensive coaching staff. Corley’s future at UConn was not disclosed but a source said he could be in the pool of OC candidates.

Based on those parameters, a source said Monday it would be reasonable to assume Diaco is returning as head coach. Of course, there had been no indication from UConn athletic director David Benedict or anyone else that Diaco would be relieved of his duties.

“I have a contract until 2021 and unless my calendar is wrong it’s 2016,” Diaco said after the season-ending 38-13 loss to Tulane.

If Diaco has his calendar marked, he also realizes that UConn lasted more than 16 quarters without a touchdown in November. The Huskies were outscored 123-3 during 51 offensive series without a TD.

“The offensive production of our football team in 2016 was far below the standards that any of us expect it to be,” Diaco said in a statement Monday. “This is a very important decision for the future of our football program and we will bring to our team an individual who can make an immediate impact as we continue to build the program. A proven record of success in developing individual talent and creating a dynamic offensive plan will be central to the search.”

At the same time, it is more than safe to say that fan satisfaction in the program is at an all-time low. Embarrassing attendance was punctuated Saturday by an actual crowd estimated at about 5,000. UConn fans took to social media – especially Twitter – on Saturday to demand Diaco’s firing. A poll by the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn., showed readers currently favor his firing 78.4 to 21.6 percent. With that in mind, it will be interesting to observe season ticket sales in the offseason. This is a program that desperately needs support. And there is some support within the fan base to drop or downsize the football program.

And yet, Diaco survives. Give credit to his agent. Without a contract extension agreement back in the spring, Diaco might be searching for another defensive coordinator job (where he was at Notre Dame before UConn). UConn president Susan Herbst got the extension process rolling after UConn’s bowl appearance at the end of last season. Former AD Warde Manuel started crunching numbers.

Eventually, Diaco’s buyout for 2016 rose from $1.7 million to $5 million. His 2017 amount was jacked up from $800,000 to $3.4 million. After Manuel left for Michigan, it was up to Benedict to etch those figures in blood.

Herbst and Benedict now have to live with those insane numbers. Right now it is more attractive to tell Diaco he needs a new staff rather than buy him out and start a search for a new head coach.

Ouch.

EAST HARTFORD, CT - NOVEMBER 04: Temple Tight End Romond Deloatch (11) pulls in a pass from Temple Quarterback Phillip Walker (8) and runs in for a touch down during the first quarter of a NCAA football game between the Temple Owls and the UConn Huskies on November 04, 2016, at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

EAST HARTFORD, CT – NOVEMBER 04: Temple Tight End Romond Deloatch (11) pulls in a pass from Temple Quarterback Phillip Walker (8) and runs in for a touch down during the first quarter of a NCAA football game between the Temple Owls and the UConn Huskies on November 04, 2016, at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

The Huskies last won 20-9 against Cincinnati on Oct. 8. That was before the Chicago Cubs and Donald Trump stole the headlines. It was before Kansas beat Texas. It was long before Tom Herman left Houston for Texas. And for Manuel, the man who hired Diaco at UConn, his biggest concern at this moment might be his Michigan coach crying about the officiating last week at Ohio State.

UConn’s win over Cincinnati was followed by losses to USF (42-27), UCF (24-16), East Carolina (41-3), Temple (21-0), Boston College (30-0) and Tulane (38-13).

UConn finished with 178 points, the program’s lowest output since the 1985 season, when the campaign was limited to nine games. In addition, the Huskies will finish in the bottom 15 nationally in total offense for the sixth year in a row.

Throughout a remarkably unproductive November, Diaco continually said that he knew what the problem was and it “would be fixed.” It never was. UConn averaged a shameful 196.3 total yards per game in November. In the process, Diaco made the change at offensive coordinator. He also burned the redshirt season of true freshman quarterback Donovan Williams for no good reason. Most viewed those Diaco decisions as an indication of panic.

It remains to be seen if the athletic and talented Williams benefitted from the move, developed bad habits of simply flushed away a year of eligibility.

Diaco is 11-26 in three seasons, including a 2-10 mark in 2014 after replacing Paul Pasqualoni, who was fired after four games in 2013. Last season the Huskies finished 6-7 after a 16-20 loss to Marshall in the St Petersburg Bowl.

That bowl appearance – UConn’s first since the 2010 season – raised expectations for the Huskies. And even though Diaco promised more exciting and wide-open play on offense, it never came to fruition this season. The Huskies struggle to put points on the board – from the opener against Maine until the finale against Tulane.

“It was a long, long season in which the expectations were spectacularly high and the results and production were spectacularly low,” Diaco said Saturday. “The minute I step away from this podium, I am going to get started on the 2017 season. Just as the team turned it into a bowl team in Year 2 [2015], we are going to get back to it.”

That’s a much different tone from the one Diaco presented when he accepted the job in December 2013. That was a day for Diaco’s “energy buckets” (“You’re either filling them up or emptying them out”) and “energy vampires” (“who suck the enthusiasm out of life”).

That same day, Manuel called a few writers together to discuss his pick.

“Probably by his second year and definitely by the third year, [the media] is going to be saying did, ‘Did Warde hit it? Did I make the right choice or not?’ I think I did,” he said. “I was looking for the best coach. He brings the passion and energy you saw today. That was a plus. His success was a greater factor.”

Diaco’s fourth year began Monday. Most people would say Manuel didn’t “hit it.” It was not a good choice. Now UConn is paying the price and Diaco is back on the clock.

No more excuses, Coach Diaco. It’s time to produce.

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