With many of the state's high school coaches grinning ear to ear and some serious UConn brass flanked to his right, Paul Pasqualoni came back home, where he will coach the state's flagship program.
Pasqualoni, 61, was introduced as the 28th UConn football coach at the Burton Family Football Complex on Friday. He succeeds Randy Edsall, who left for Maryland.
Exciting. That described the mood of many people in the room Friday. Still, many people outside the room will care more about what happens on Saturdays in the fall than on a Friday afternoon in January.
"I got a very nice call from [former Yale and Dallas Cowboys running back] Calvin Hill where he mentioned that over the past decade he's worked with the Dallas Cowboys that [Paul's] a sensational coach but even a better man," UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway said. "Our exciting and extraordinary journey that we've all traveled with this incredible football program, up until two weeks ago when we went to our first BCS bowl, has been a wonderful one. I know that is only going to continue under Paul's leadership."
This is a big hire for Hathaway, and Pasqualoni emerged as No. 1 in a pool of six candidates. The others were Hank Hughes, the Huskies' assistant head coach for defense; Mark Whipple, the former UMass coach with state ties; Iowa offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe; Garrick McGee, who holds the same titles as O'Keefe at Arkansas; and Columbia coach Norries Wilson, a former UConn assistant. Hathaway said the only candidate he interviewed twice was Pasqualoni.
When Pasqualoni got to the lectern, he thanked interim president Philip Austin; president-elect Susan Herbst, who flew in for the occasion; board of trustees chairman Larry McHugh; and Hathaway. And he reached out to the state coaches in the audience.
"This is very, very exciting," Pasqualoni said. "My family and I are excited to be here, and I have so many people that I am thankful for. Jeff [Hathaway] mentioned the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association, many of whom are here today. I started my career as a ninth-grade coach at Cheshire High School in 1972. I felt at that point that I had the best coaching job in America."
This one pays a little more. Pasqualoni will make $8.5 million over five years beginning with $1.5 million in 2011.
"Our focus throughout this search was with coaches that had I-A and or NFL experience," Hathaway said. "While I have tremendous respect for so many current FCS [I-AA] head coaches, none were part of this particular search. Following our outstanding interviews with every candidate that we met with, the only person that we had follow-up conversations with was Paul."
Pasqualoni is a Cheshire native who was an assistant coach at Southern Connecticut before he got his first head coaching job at Western Connecticut in 1982. He went on to coach at Syracuse, where he was 107-59-1 in 14 seasons with four Big East titles, before spending time in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and Cowboys. He finished this past season as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator.
Pasqualoni said he has a lot of work to do, starting with a team meeting Sunday night. He has to choose his staff, and UConn needs to continue to recruit. Pasqualoni said the recruiting period - which began Friday - will take precedence over settling on a staff. No decision has been made on what current staff members, if any, will remain. But during breaks in the recruiting periods, Pasqualoni said, he will interview all the assistants to see if they're on the same page with the direction he wants to take the program.
"I'm excited about this challenge, to continue the development of the program here at the University of Connecticut, at this competitive level of football," Pasqualoni said. "I'm excited and passionate to work with the young men academically. We're going to work very hard to give attention to the student athlete. We're very proud of the students here - their commitment to the classroom has us really looking forward to working with them."
There were certainly those looking forward to working with him, too, starting with Herbst, who was more than happy to hear that the American Football Coaches Association acknowledged the Syracuse football program for academic success in 10 of the 14 seasons Pasqualoni was there.
"As much as he wants to win and as much as he wants a national profile for this program, he really cares about these young men and I think his background as a teacher and being in high school and watching kids develop is big," Herbst said. "One of the nice things about hiring a person like Paul is that being at a place like Syracuse University for so long, he has the balance down. He understands kids are under tremendous pressure from all of us to succeed and to win, but that their long-term future is going to be determined by whether they graduate.
"I think he said it best when he said his biggest goal is to have the student athletes be citizens ... go in and get interviews and get the job. He's a terrific hire. I couldn't be happier with the athletic department."
Edsall also put a premium on academic success. The UConn program was among the best in the Big East in graduation rates during most of Edsall's 12 seasons.
Hathaway and Herbst won't want to see that change. The changes football fans want to see more than anything are talent upgrades and an offensive philosophy that will lead to more exciting games and victories.
That's where the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association might play a role; UConn has lost some big names to out-of-state programs. The organization sent Hathaway a letter supporting Pasqualoni last week. Other high school coaches came through, too.
"In addition to Connecticut, the New Jersey and New York football coaches associations [prime recruiting territories] sent along very strong messages to me and to the university with the respect that they have for Paul Pasqualoni," Hathaway said.
Paul Pasqualoni Takes Over UConn Football Program
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