STORRS -- No matter how this thing turns out, rest assured first-year coach Paul Pasqualoni will put everything he has into his job as UConn football coach.
"I think, very honestly, Coach P is about excellence," said George DeLeone, his good friend and the Huskies' offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. "He's not about being average. He's going to work himself, the coaches and the players as hard as they can to attain the goal.
"He's not afraid of success and the players won't be afraid of success. We're going to go after it. He understands the expectation and is not afraid of it. He's looking forward to the challenge and competing every week."
It's probably safe to assume Pasqualoni, a Cheshire native, longtime Syracuse head coach and recent NFL assistant, will take his game to another level as he tries to take the program to another level.
Pasqualoni, 62, bowed his head and told a crowd at the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce breakfast last Thursday how humbled he was to have been given the opportunity to coach the UConn football team. It was not the first time he said it and it won't be the last.
Pasqualoni's family -- wife Jill, sons Dante and Tito and daughter Cami -- are part of the work deal, too. They've been up to practices. They come to the Burton Family Football Complex from their home in South Windsor to share time with him.
"My wife is a coach's wife," said Pasqualoni, the second-winningest coach in Syracuse history (107) and the all-time Big East leader with 62 conference wins in 14 seasons. "My kids know what their father is doing and where he is. They know they can call me any time. They know they can stop by and say hi. With the number of hours you work as a coach, I think that's important. I think it's important they know you love them and are always thinking about them. But at the same time they're a part of your job because they've got to let you do your job. I'm the luckiest guy in the world because there's never been an issue there."
That's good, because folks around here want to see results from the new guy. Some want to see what the Pasqualoni hype is all about and whether his final three years at Syracuse (16-20, 8-12 Big East) were an aberration or a sign his time had passed.
"Well, I'll say this," former Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel said, "I know for a fact -- because Paul told me several years after he left Syracuse -- that while he was still coaching football in the pros, his goal was to get back onto a college campus. That's what he wanted to do. He enjoyed coaching in the pros, but he wanted to coach college football and he was going to try to do whatever he could to get back there. That's why I'm really happy for him now because that motivation got him back."
Pasqualoni has been the UConn coach since January and has already made an impact in the area that is at the heart of all college football programs: recruiting.
UConn has 15 commitments for 2012 already, a number never reached at this point during the Randy Edsall era. A fascinating Pasqualoni recruit is the state's top player, Masuk-Monroe quarterback Casey Cochran, who would not have committed had Pasqualoni not been the coach.
Cochran's father, Jack, had a long-standing relationship with Pasqualoni that helped the Orange get Dwight Freeney when Cochran coached him at Bloomfield High. The Huskies have also landed two potential impact transfers from BCS schools since Pasqualoni's arrival -- Ryan Donohue, a linebacker from Maryland, and Shakim Phillips, a wide receiver from Boston College.
The recruits in the 2012 class are mostly of the two- and three-star variety, but that could change. And it doesn't matter much to Pasqualoni, who says recruiting services are not better talent evaluators than he is. He studies players and has a vision for the type of player he wants at each position.
"I know he has a lot of pride," said DeLeone, a 1970 UConn graduate. "And I think it's obvious that what happened at Syracuse was A) the wrong decision; and B), a guy like this deserved better. He's a great man and he deserved better. With that said, I will always respect [outgoing athletic director] Jeff Hathaway for what he did because this is the absolute right hire here, absolute right hire, couldn't be any better. Number one, he's from Connecticut. Numbers two, he can walk into any high school in the East and doesn't have to introduce himself to anybody. Everyone knows him. Number three, this is a program where we have to develop players and there's nobody better at developing players than Coach P, so I think it's a great fit.
"Now we just gotta do it."
And that does not leave a lot of time for other interests. Pasqualoni has a love for classic Corvettes. He has a Boston Whaler and likes to go clamming in Rhode Island and fishing for flounder, striped bass and sea bass on Block Island. He supposedly makes a mean marinara sauce, too.
"I was never a guy that would stop off with the guys and have a beer on the way home -- not that there's anything wrong with that because I don't think there is," Pasqualoni said. "When the day was done, you wanted to get home, get something to eat, get to bed and get back to work the next day. That's just the way it's been for me.
"I spent a lot of years up at Syracuse, and I'm not so sure I could tell you where a lot of things were up there. I knew my way to the office and back. I knew where Erie Boulevard [one of the main drags in the city] was. I knew where Rico's and Grimaldi's [two legendary Italian restaurants] were. I knew where the church was and I knew where Wegmans [grocery store] was, and that was about it."
Right now, Pasqualoni's focus is football and family.
"I'm not proud to say I don't have many hobbies, not proud to say it at all, but my hobbies are probably my kids right now and my family, the sports they're playing, how they're doing, talking about practice," Pasqualoni said. "They'll call me after practice and tell me they had a good practice, that type of thing.
"My son Dante likes lacrosse and football. Tito really likes football. He's plays baseball, too, and my daughter Cami likes soccer, lacrosse, all sports. It's fun to watch them and have a little success, so that's a good life."
Pasqualoni had a good life as the Syracuse coach from the time he took over for Dick MacPherson in 1991 through 2001, although he was the coach through 2004. The Orange were 91-39-1 during Pasqualoni's first 11 seasons, including four Big East titles and a 6-3 record in bowl games.
Things were good and then, all of a sudden, they weren't. Pasqualoni won't touch it.
"The good Lord put our eyes in the front and not in the back so we can see where we're going and not where we've been. That's kind of how I deal with it," Pasqualoni said.
Crouthamel and DeLeone were there went it all went down.
They'll touch it.
"The year after we left -- on a 1-10 football team -- they had more seniors in a pro football camp that next year than we had ever had in all the years we were there, so there was some talent there," DeLeone said "Things had changed at Syracuse. The [Carrier] Dome had become less attractive. It wasn't a novelty anymore, so I think that affected recruiting. It was what it was, but you needed a guy there who was going to develop players because you weren't going to beat Penn State or Southern Cal on many kids. So you have to get a player that loves football that you were going to develop; that's the kind of head coach that needs to be there and Coach P was the best at that. So with patience I think that thing could have been turned around. It just wasn't allowed to.
"The other thing is, people got spoiled there. Understand they can say what they want, but those trustees were sitting in a press box -- at a bowl game by the way -- as they made their decision, OK? They were sitting at a bowl game when they made this decision that things were going the wrong way. People got a little spoiled up there and to be fair about it, Coach P and his success there did spoil them."
After Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor and Crouthamel gave Pasqualoni a vote of confidence in 2004 after the Orange stunned Boston College to earn one of four slices of the Big East championship pie, the Orange went to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Georgia Tech drove the Orange into the ground, 51-14.
"I went into the locker room after the game and Paul said 'Gentlemen, I don't know what happened out there, I can't tell you.' It was that kind of a game," Crouthamel said. "Guys just forgot they were playing in an organized system and that this was a favor for having a pretty good season and tying for the Big East championship, and we played very, very poorly. That was it."
Timing is everything, and Crouthamel was on his way out, too, retiring as the AD. Daryl Gross would replace him.
"I was sitting in the press box watching the game and up above me -- it was a two-tier press box -- there were a handful of trustees," Crouthamel said. "And at the end of the game, one of the trustees told me what was going on up there and that they had decided Paul was gone. That's where it really came about. I don't believe there were any outside influences regarding the move. I think it was decided at the Champs Sports Bowl by a handful of trustees."
The Champs Sports Bowl was Pasqualoni's last game as a college coach.
He's back now, looking forward, never backward.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times