Why Bob Diaco deserved another year as UConn head coach

One timeout is probably all that separated Bob Diaco from unemployment and another trip to a bowl game. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(WTNH)–He won the opening press conference.

There just weren’t a whole lot of wins after that.

UConn has parted ways with head coach Bob Diaco after three seasons with the program.

Diaco came to Storrs with a terrific reputation as a defensive coordinator and a can-do attitude that fluctuated between Dick Vermeil/Pete Carroll levels of positivity and downright derangement.

He did some bizarre things (the Civil ConFLiCT). He angered some members of the media (including some in our own newsroom at times).

But anybody with a brain capable of storing memories in their skull longer than the last time they scrolled through Twitter can recall just how terrible the team was before Diaco arrived in Storrs.

Bob Diaco
Diaco was unorthodox, and unpopular with the media, but he did turn the program around in 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Paul Pasqualoni took a program coming off of a Big East championship and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, and ran it into the ground.

He crashed the program like a Wall Street banker in 2008. It was virtually unrecognizable.

Diaco, in the midst of a 2-10 debut in 2013, was maybe a little bit overzealous in reminding people of just how much work had to be done. There’s no doubt that his rant rubbed people the wrong way, and some people haven’t forgiven him for it.

There’s also no doubt that UConn fans are notoriously impatient, and even irrational.

Yes, the team took a huge step backward this year. A 3-9 record isn’t what anybody envisioned, especially after making a bowl trip last year for the first time since 2010.

A lot of the blame for this failure of a season can be placed on Diaco. He epically mishandled the last few minutes of the Navy game, costing the Huskies what would have been a huge early-season win. He could have been better in the Syracuse game, which also could have been a ‘W.’

Connecticut quarterback Donovan Williams (15) is brought down by Temple defensive lineman Haason Reddick during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, in East Hartford, Conn. Temple won 21-0. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
The offense went from bad to unrecognizable with the freshman Williams under center, scoring just 13 points in their final three games. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

His biggest mistake–by far–was wasting freshman quarterback Donovan Williams’ redshirt in the Temple game on November 5. At that time, UConn was 3-6, and still had a chance to rally in its final three games and reach a bowl for the second straight year.

Diaco should have stuck with fourth-year junior Bryant Shirreffs, who was never spectacular but at least gave the team a chance to score some points. Instead, maybe feeling some mounting pressure, he went with Williams, who was woefully unprepared and completely overmatched.

The Huskies scored a grand total of 13 points in their final three games with Williams under center, all of them coming in the season finale against Tulane.

They were embarrassed, 30-0, by a beatable Boston College team. The program’s image sank to near-Pasqualoni lows.

It all might have been different if Diaco had saved a timeout for the final seconds against Navy. The team might have been 3-0 heading into the Syracuse game, and instead of searching for a new coach, the Huskies would be game-planning for a bowl right now.

Yes, the offense was anemic under Diaco, averaging just 15.9 points per game in three seasons, the fewest of any FBS team since New Mexico put up 14.7 points from 2009-11.

And yes, the incoming recruiting class didn’t look very promising, as it was ranked 108th in the nation and 12th in the AAC by 247Sports.com.

But this was never going to be a quick, easy rebuild.

The Huskies weren’t just going to pull a Houston the year after being the only team in the country to beat Houston, which by the way, is still one of the biggest wins in program history.

If you had told Huskies fans at this time last year that Diaco would only have one more season in Storrs, they would’ve figured he’d have taken another job at a bigger program.

Instead, he’s been shown the door.

Yes, this is a results-driven business, and yes, it appears new UConn athletic director David Benedict already has his replacement—current Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead—in mind.

The fact that he didn’t hire Diaco probably plays into this as well.

You won’t hear much complaining from most of the media, who didn’t like Diaco because he wasn’t always available and didn’t always play nice for their puff pieces.

But even with a few mistakes (for a first-time head coach), Diaco proved that he had what it took to rebuild a moribund program and bring it to a bowl game within two years.

2014 was a rebuilding year. 2015 was a success. And sure, 2016 was a step backward.

But Bob Diaco deserved a 2017.

He’ll get another chance somewhere else.

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