As a young boy in Glen Rock, UConn football coach Randy Edsall enjoyed attending an annual carnival held not far from his home. He was particularly amused by a game called “Fool the guesser.”
“You could have him guess your age or your weight,” the Susquehannock High School graduate said. “They had to be, I think, within two years of your age and five pounds of your weight. I should probably go to carnivals. I don't think I look 60 years old. I could win a lot of stuffed animals.”
Edsall turns 60 Aug. 27, three days before the Huskies open the 2018 season at Rentschler Field against Central Florida. It marks the beginning of his second season in his second stint at UConn, a program trying to find its way by guessing that Edsall can do what he once did — make the Huskies relevant, make football a winner, make people in Connecticut care.
“That's why I came back, not for me, but because of where this program was when I left last time,” Edsall said. “This can be a successful program. It's like if you go and start a business and you move on and sell the business, and then you see that business going downhill and then you have an opportunity to buy it back. You want to buy that business and build it back up. I've seen what having a successful program can do not only for this institution, but for the people of this state. So we'll do everything we can to get it back to where it was. It’s a totally different situation this time around. But that doesn't mean you can't be successful.”
First stint at UConn: It was nearly 20 years ago, December 1998, when Edsall, previously the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, was first introduced as UConn coach. He was 40, an assistant coach for 18 years, and he used his introductory press conference to set the highest of expectations for a program that hadn’t even begun the transition into the level of college football now known as FBS.
He mentioned winning a national championship, which, of course, never happened and never could. Still, he won a couple of Big East championships and reached the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season, the third in a row the Huskies finished 8-5. Then he was off to Maryland, off our football radar as the UConn program eroded and fell without a seat in the Power Five game of musical chairs. The Huskies haven't enjoyed a winning season since then and was 3-9 in Edsall's first year back in 2017.
It has been more than a year and a half since the latest press conference to introduce Edsall, in December 2016. He’s as different as the situation, much more conversational and open — in part because he has relaxed, in part because he knows the job now requires salesmanship. He remains in great shape, runs 5 miles a day and mixes in 20-mile bike rides, and runs the program with the same energy that helped him push a new FBS program to the top of a terrific conference in the 2000’s.
“This old dog,” Edsall said, “still has a lot of fight in him.”
Hearing issues: Edsall is, of course, much closer to retirement than the beginning of a career. That doesn’t scare him. He wanted the UConn job and still wants it. He didn’t need it and still doesn’t need it. He’s here doing what he loves, nurturing a program he loves; he just acts and looks slightly different this time around — right down to the hearing aids.
Basically, his wife, Eileen, got tired of Edsall saying, “Huh?” Much of his life’s work has been conducted in loud stadiums and with assistants barking into the headset he wears on the sideline.
“Everybody has different problems at different times in life,” Edsall said. “I knew there was an issue.”
A couple of years ago, Edsall and Eileen were in Atlantic Beach, Florida, for Tom Coughlin’s Jay Fund Celebrity Golf Classic. Doug Marrone, now the Jaguars coach and long an Edsall friend from their Syracuse ties and time spent together at Georgia Tech in the 1990’s, was there, too, with wife Helen.
“Eileen saw Doug and saw he had hearing aids,” Edsall said. “She was talking to Helen and she goes, 'Hey, come here.' Doug was there and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, it helps me tremendously.’ So I went for a hearing test. I go in the booth and they're asking you to repeat words. It must have been comical. The words they were asking me, I wasn't even close on some and Eileen, she's sitting out there, and she's not laughing, has a straight face. But when I came out she goes, 'Oh my god!' The doctor told me, ‘Yeah, you need help.’ So I have them. And they really help. I would tell people that [nowadays], it's amazing, you see so many people with them on and they make them where you can barely see them. If I grew my hair longer you wouldn't even know.”
Getting into college coaching: Edsall doesn’t expect a birthday party. He’ll be wrapped up in UCF preparation. He has, though, thought back through time lately, this kid from Glen Rock who thought he’d finish his days at Syracuse and teach and coach high school football the rest of his life.
“Until one day when [coach] Frank Maloney brought me in and talked to me about being a graduate assistant,” Edsall said. “Next thing you know, 39 years later, I'm sitting here. In 1980, I would have never thought this journey would take me through the places I’ve been. I love what I do, but when the time comes that I decide when the end is going to be, I'm not going to have a problem moving on to the next phase. Because there are a lot of things … I want to be able to do what I haven't done because of what I felt I had to do to be successful in the jobs I've been in.”
Final coaching project: Edsall mentioned travel, family time, golf. For now, he’s fully immersed in his final project and a milestone birthday, to him, is just another day to continue building UConn to a point where it will sustain over time.
“I’m not excited about turning 60 and I’m not disappointed in turning 60,” Edsall said. “Everything is going in the right direction to get that ship turned around and moving the way it should be through choppy water.”