What’s goin on?
Well, we’ve heard new UConn football coach Bob Diaco be very honest in a few of his assessments of the team and players so far. Some of it brutally – and refreshingly – honest, too, from the work the players needed on their bodies, to learning how to not lose a game, to the unsettled quarterback situation.
“How can I talk about [program slogan] Rise Up Together and not have collectively, Husky Nation be integrated in where we’re at and where we’re going?,” Diaco said during an interview in his office Friday morning.
You’re going to get some more honesty here and it got kicked off through something I retweeted on twitter a few days ago off the American Athletic Conference call with the football coaches. I saw a tweet about Diaco not minding throwing the old regime under the bus or something to that effect and I RTd it..
“That’s not…that’s. I love those guys,” Diaco said. I’ve known Coach [George] DeLeone since I was a kid. I’ve known Coach [Paul] Pasqualoni since I was a kid. I camped at Syracuse for four years. I met those guys when I was 13 years old. Coach DeLeone recruited Essex County (N.J.) for the different spots he was in. I mean he is revered in our business, on our end, as a guy who does it the right way – whether you agree with it or the recipe worked here or didn’t work there he’s had a lot of success. I have nothing but respect for those people as coaches in our profession.
“You’re asking me about the program where it sits right now? Well, I’m answering those questions. It isn’t about a bus or throwing under the bus or on the bus or to the bus or whatever. It is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is when I got the team I couldn’t tell the difference between the seniors and the freshmen physically or mentally. Now how is that OK? How is it OK? In what world is it OK that a young man shows up here at 17 years old, goes to school here, comes to meetings every day, trains, eats and at 21 and 22, basically looks the same as when he was 17 – and acts the same and dresses the same? That’s OK?”
How quick did Diaco, hired in December, pick up on that?
“Immediately. Listen you’re meeting me for the first time and you’re a player and you’re 16? I can see you showing up to that meeting a particular way. You’re meeting me for the first time and you’re a senior? To me, that should look different. And that’s what we’re trying to educate these young men on now, with our career development series, with our interfacing with community standards, with all these different pieces now we should continue to get feedback – not that it’s all going to be peaches and cream. It’s not. There’s going to be 115 guys on the team. There’s another 20 or 30 staffers, you’re talking about almost 150 people on the team, in the organization. So, listen, not everything is going to go OK and there’s going to be a whole collection of people who make mistakes, including myself, but collectively we should hear; ‘those guys went to this particular function, they looked great, they presented themselves well’ those are the conversations that we’re hearing more and it will continue to grow, about young men becoming men, physically, mentally, emotionally. That’s just a fact.
“Now, how many games did the team strain and take at the end? How many games did the team strain and let it slip at the end? Why towards the end would the team run out of gas or, you’ve got a lead going into the half, you close it out. You’ve got the lead going into the fourth quarter, you win every one of those…those kinds of things…
Which quickly brought to mind the 21-7 second-half lead the Huskies blew at home to nationally-ranked Michigan and lost.
“Those moments are not an attitude,” Diaco said. “It’s a culture. Coach [Geno] Auriemma repeated a quote from a Navy SEAL just the other day and said it very eloquently: you don’t raise to the competition you fall back to your training. ”
OK, I asked Diaco if he felt any pressure to get UConn back into a bowl game this season. The Huskies haven’t been to one since wrapping up their 2010 season at the Fiesta Bowl. Who knew their first and last BCS trip would also be their last bowl appearance to date?
“Specifically?” Diaco asked to the bowl game question. “No. Do I feel pressure? Yes. My definition of success may be different than yours. And my definition for success and winning in 2014 may be different than yours. Right now I’ll be disappointed – and the pressure I feel - is if the players do not improve. Every single player and coach and essential staff member on our team has got to be better than they were, better each day, better collectively. That’s the pressure I feel. And that’s real pressure. It’s as real as an ultimate goal of a bowl game for 2014 but for me, looking in the mirror, shaving my face, that’s what it’s going to be about: Did the players improve? They did. They did. We are better right now, six months later, each player and collectively as a group than we were six months ago. That’s my focus. It’s a daily focus like that.
“And that’s what I’m doing, personally. It’s the same thing. Like [John] Wooden said, I’m not who I ought to be. I’m not who I’m going to be. I’m just glad I’m not who I was yesterday. That’s Wooden and that’s true.”