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Davis: UConn fans must forget past, welcome Edsall back

Bill Shettle/Icon Sportswire

The divorce in 2011 was ugly. There’s no disputing that fact.

Randy Edsall walked out on his UConn players after the Fiesta Bowl, and headed for Maryland without telling them.

It made UConn fans angry. Extremely angry. Even though Edsall has admitted it was a mistake, some from UConn Nation still hold on to their anger and rage. They can’t let it go, even though Edsall remains the best thing that ever happened to UConn football.

It’s time.

Edsall is on his way back.

Forgiveness is the only way for UConn to move on in this relationship. Come next August, there should be a great deal of comfort seeing Edsall back on the UConn sideline… and a better football team on the field.

UConn athletic director David Benedict, who Monday announced the firing of coach Bob Diaco, issued a press release Wednesday morning that the Huskies are calling on Edsall v2.0 to clean up the mess and get UConn back in good field position.

Observers across the country are already finding humor in this reunion. What they don’t understand is that the biggest obstacle stems from that departure after the Huskies lost 48-20 to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011.

UConn has scheduled a press conference for Friday morning to welcome Edsall back. Edsall opened Rentschler Field in 2003 with a 34-10 victory over Indiana. The Huskies moved on to a 9-3 record. It is the House That Randy Built.

Edsall has admitted over and over he made mistakes. In UConn’s press release Wednesday, he again reiterated that he did not handle his departure to Maryland the right way.

“Certainly as I look back on it, I wish I had done things differently in that instance,” Edsall said.

“I completely understand and respect that there are loyal fans, supporters and former players that still have not forgotten and it will take time to forgive. I have many incredible memories of my time at UConn and I hope the fans do too. It is my goal to get us back to that level of success and I hope that all of the Husky fans out there will be along for the ride.”

That should end the discussion. But it will not suffice for some.

01January 2011: Connecticut Huskies head coach Randy Edsall during the Fiesta Bowl between the UConn Huskies and the Oklahoma Sooners at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ.  The Sooners won 48 - 20.

01 January 2011: Connecticut Huskies head coach Randy Edsall during the Fiesta Bowl between the UConn Huskies and the Oklahoma Sooners at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. — Nick Doan, Icon Sportswire

With that in mind, Edsall should step to the microphone Friday morning and open his speech this way:

“I’m so glad to be back at UConn, a place where we had great success and a place that felt like home for me and my family. Again, I want to apologize for the manner in which I left the first time. I made a mistake. I appreciate the second chance. Let’s move on and get it right this time.”

When UConn’s announcement went public Wednesday, Twitter was filled with an extremely positive response from former UConn players. They know what Edsall did in the past and they’ve gotten over the details of his exodus from UConn.

They know better than anyone that college football is big business. If they can handle it, the fans should be able to handle it.

Edsall is a good coach. He is the winningest coach in UConn history with 74 wins between 1999 and 2010. One of the best decisions made by former UConn athletic director Lew Perkins was hiring Edsall to bring the UConn program up from Division I-AA to I-A in 2002. He was perfect in that role, and by the time has tenure was over, he had taken the Huskies to five bowl games, including that BCS appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

His UConn teams consistently performed above the NCAA academic standards in the classroom. There was excitement at Rentschler Field during the season.

UConn said Edsall’s contract runs 5 years at $1 million annually in guaranteed compensation. There are opportunities for bonuses based on performance and achievement. Buyouts for UConn and Edsall mirror each other beginning at $3 million and decreasing $1 million each year to zero after the third year. Last spring Diaco’s buyouts increased to $5 million and $3.4 million. By firing Diaco effective January 2, UConn saved itself a lot of money.

From day one at UConn, Diaco never presented himself as a good fit at UConn. Too cocky. Too egotistic. Too full of himself and his cutesy press conferences filled with gimmicks and odd phrases.

Diaco did not respect coaches and athletes from other sports at UConn, sources have said. Former AD Warde Manuel made a bad hire. Diaco had done nothing in his past to earn the title of king of UConn’s athletic department. More than anything, he was not straightforward with UConn’s football players, deceiving them to think they would enjoy bigger roles on the team than they actually did.

Even then, something must have happened between Nov. 26 and Dec. 26., something that made Benedict change his mind about bringing Diaco back for a fourth season. Eventually, we may find out what that was. It was obviously the last straw, although it wasn’t in Art Briles or Bobby Petrino territory.

10 September 2016: Connecticut Huskies head coach Bob Diaco in action against the Navy Midshipmen at the Navy Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Randy Edsall re-enters: Connecticut Huskies head coach Bob Diaco couldn’t replicate what Edsall achieved in New England. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

With Edsall back in charge, no one at UConn – from the AD to the players – will have to endure that type of nonsense. Bank on it.

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had connections to UConn but made it known quickly that they were not interested. The mention of Greg Schiano, Al Golden and Les Miles were extreme stretches and never proper fits for UConn.

At this point in the season, well after UConn’s final game and just days from the start of the recruiting period, Edsall makes sense for a program trying to regain what little reputation it has ever had. Everyone knows Edsall has the ability to move a program forward in a short amount of time.

Edsall did ruffle some feathers at Maryland from 2011 to 2015, but Maryland fans are rarely fond of their football coaches. Evidently that was not an obstacle for Benedict, who is putting a lot on the line with this major hire.

Edsall’s firing left him without a coaching job, and he absolutely lives to coach. He spent the last year as Director of Research – Special Projects for the Detroit Lions of the NFL.
Based on recent conversations with Edsall, he was happy with his job in Detroit and had strong hopes for the Lions to reach the playoffs. It kept Edsall involved in the game. Yet, he clearly wanted to be a head coach again.

Edsall did not respond to a message left late Tuesday night. He remains a private person in both business and family matters. Until Friday’s press conference, his reasons for returning to UConn – and UConn’s reasons for bringing him back – will remain mostly a mystery.

What UConn’s future craves more than anything else are victories and a return to bowl action. Edsall has already proven he can produce those things. If he does it again with this second chance, it seems to be a win-win for everybody.

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