STORRS — Bob Diaco came into his first Monday press conference on a game week as clean as a whistle.
Suit, fresh haircut.
Suit? Yes, a suit, just as he had in April. In what was a "dress rehearsal" for what a typical game day would feel like, Diaco walked into Rentschler Field before the spring game wearing a suit and toting a brief case.
That's the spring game.
This is a man who wore a suit throughout his trip to Iowa when Hayden Fry was recruiting him to become a Hawkeye.
That is Diaco's style. He will arrive at Rentschler Field Friday night for the season opener in a suit and his players in coats and ties. He's a professional in the field, and on the field he's wanted to be associated with since he was about 7 years old.
"I am so impressed with how he's handled himself as a head coach," said Don Patterson, Diaco's assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. "I'm not surprised because he's such a smart guy, and he's been observing coaches for years and years."
From the likes of Fry at Iowa, Patterson at Western Illinois, Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, Al Groh at Virginia and Kelly again at Cincinnati and the previous four years at Notre Dame, Diaco has learned from his teachers and prepared for this moment. The Huskies open against BYU (ESPN, 7 p.m.). They are 16.5-point underdogs.
Just to be clear, although Diaco has learned from others, he's running the program his way.
"He's been down this road before," Patterson said. "Before the UConn hire he was up for the [Boston College] job you might recall and I'm sure then he was thinking 'I know how I want to run my program.' I don't know how much came from Hayden Fry, Brian Kelly or Don Patterson, but I think his ideas about how to be a good head coach probably came from all of the above and then some. I think he's such a smart guy, has given it a lot of thought. He knows how he wants to do it and he's determined to stay on that track."
The situation that Diaco, 41, and the staff walked into at UConn is similar to the one that Patterson faced when he started at Iowa in 1979.
"Same as here, young men that have high character and they're frustrated because they haven't been able to succeed the last three years," Patterson said. "They're on the edge of their chair. They're going to do exactly as you tell them to do. When we first met the players, I said, 'You guys need to know this; we all had good jobs that we left to come here. We weren't desperate to have a job at UConn. We wanted to be at UConn for two fundamental reasons. We believe in Coach Diaco and how he's going to lead this program, and we believe in you as players because we've done our homework – you are the right kind of players. Things didn't mesh a year ago but that doesn't mean they won't mesh this fall.' "
Diaco led a top defense at Notre Dame, one that played for a national championship in 2012 and one that helped him earn the national assistant coach of the year award.
"Bobby hasn't asked me for a lot of input because I don't think he feels he needs a lot of input from me," Patterson said. "In rare cases he might say 'what do you think?' Sometimes he might look to me just to see if there's a nod of agreement. ... Maybe he looks and he's thinking, 'I don't know that Coach P thinks that's a good idea,' but most of the time he's getting an approving nod from me because he's almost always on track with how things should be done. He doesn't need a lot of help from me. He really doesn't."
Diaco was asked about his emotions leading up to his first game as head coach of a team that has struggled for three years but one he and his staff have grown with over the past nine months.
"I'm excited," Diaco said. "I'm excited to watch the players. I'm excited to see what our last nine months of work looks like. I'm excited to see what guys are going to rise to the occasion and what guys will have trouble with it. That will be interesting. It's all kind of enjoyable, fun to watch, even the ones that don't necessarily have success. You get excited about figuring out ways to help them be better than they were. It's just a new challenge, a new moment, and one that our program is excited to be a part of."
Is he nervous?
"No, I'm not nervous," Diaco said. "We're preparing ... they're not issuing me any pads or a helmet. The players are going to have to go out and play, and we're going to do our dead level best to do everything we can possibly do to help them prepare for the game."
Ticket Time Wrong
The UConn-BYU game is a 7 p.m. start, despite what is printed on the tickets. When UConn season tickets were printed, game time was 8 p.m., but ESPN subsequently rescheduled its broadcast to 7 p.m.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times