Edsall got UConn with the program
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — He has watched the program grow, blossom, flourish. He has guided his players through triumph and tragedy. In one sense, there is not much more coach Randy Edsall can do for the University of Connecticut football program other than to nurture it.
Whether that means the Huskies competing for a national championship on a regular basis, the way the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams do, is questionable.
In 12 years as coach, Edsall has lived through what he calls a “great story’’ — a New England school that eight years ago was a Division 1-AA program with limited facilities, and which hadn’t dominated at even that level.
“For us to be here,’’ said Edsall, referring to a BCS berth in the Fiesta Bowl tonight against Oklahoma, “is simply amazing.’’
How much longer Edsall remains with the Huskies is an ongoing question. As the Huskies have developed their Bowl Subdivision résumé — they have won or shared two Big East titles in the last four years — Edsall’s profile also has increased.
Schools such as Notre Dame, Clemson, Tennessee, South Florida, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, and Miami have expressed interest in Edsall over the past few seasons. With Maryland looking for a replacement for Ralph Friedgen, Edsall’s name has been mentioned. And with more than a handful of NFL jobs open or soon to be open, don’t be stunned if Edsall, who has some NFL experience as an assistant, finds his name in that mix.
Truth be told, Edsall has taken UConn to the point where it is a way station for another BCS conference job. With a multimillion-dollar training facility and a relatively new stadium (Rentschler Field opened in 2003) in East Hartford, UConn can match facilities with almost any school.
But there is more to Edsall than a coach looking to upgrade his pay and status. With a contract that pays him 1.55 million annually, including a $100,000 bonus for taking the Huskies to a BCS bowl, Edsall is well compensated. Not bad for a kid from Pennsylvania, who went to Syracuse and then followed a coaching odyssey that took him to Boston College and Georgia Tech, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When he was hired by former athletic director Lew Perkins, UConn believed it had the person who would guide the Huskies through the often turbulent move from 1-AA to 1-A.
At yesterday’s final news conference before the Huskies take on the Sooners in the most important game in UConn football history, the 52-year-old Edsall was asked how the Huskies got from Point A to Point B so quickly.
“Perseverance,’’ he said. “Everything that I wanted to do when I came to UConn was to build a program that would stand the test of time, that we weren’t going to be a football team, we were going to be a program.
“We weren’t going to take the shortcut. We didn’t go out and try to win in the first couple of years and go the [junior college] route or anything like that. We got a couple of kids when we had the need. But for the most part, it has been really a lot of hard work, determination, perseverance, the good old-fashioned American work ethic.’’
It might take all of that and more to knock off the Sooners, who are 16 1/2-point favorites, ranked No. 9 in the country, and have an assortment of offensive weapons, including quarterback Landry Jones to wide receiver Ryan Broyles.
“You feel like the little boy at the dike,’’ said Edsall. “And the holes are starting to come in and you have only so many fingers to plug the holes, and they have so many talented, skilled athletes.’’
Yet Edsall is not backing off, and Oklahoma, which has lost its last five BCS bowls, knows it may not be the walkover many people expect.
“Randy is an excellent coach. Everyone knows that,’’ said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “Randy and I used to run around recruiting Florida together when we were assistants. He was at Boston College, I was at Kansas State. So I’ve always kind of followed Randy and he has always done a great job.’’
Now UConn and Edsall are at a place almost no one outside a small inner circle in Storrs, Conn., could have predicted.
“There are only 10 teams that participate in the BCS arena,’’ said Edsall. “This is really incredible. This year we opened with Michigan and we’re finishing with Oklahoma. It’s a lot different than opening up with Maine and ending with Rhode Island.’’
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at email@example.com.