When the time came recently to prioritize retaining and promoting offensive coordinator John Dunn, UConn football coach Randy Edsall effectively reached into his own pocket to make it happen.
Dunn, who will return for a second season as coordinator in 2019, has a new title of associate head coach and a new salary of $450,000, up from $300,000.
It won't cost UConn a dime. That's a good thing, because UConn just reported that its athletic department lost $40 million in 2018, including an $8.7 million loss by the football program.
Edsall recently signed a “memorandum of agreement” with UConn that reduces his salary by $150,000, according to documents obtained by The Courant via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The agreement states that Edsall “voluntarily and independently approached the University and requested to reduce his supplemental salary by $150,000 in the 2019 and 2020 calendar year. ... Mr. Edsall has made this request in order to provide the University with additional funds to support the Football team."
This is the latest and most significant representation of Edsall’s belief in a process and vision for making UConn football once again relevant.
It’s fair for one to question where the project is headed considering the program turbulence since the Fiesta Bowl appearance that followed the 2010 season.
But no one should doubt Edsall’s commitment or his investment – emotionally, and now financially – toward building the program back into something the state can be proud of.
A coach pushing $150,000 from his side of the table to that of an assistant is a gesture to be celebrated.
And it was probably necessary.
Coach had other opportunities: Dunn had other job opportunities this offseason, sources said. He could have landed a Power Five job.
Now, if all goes well, he could be UConn’s next coach.
There’s no coach-in-waiting language in Dunn’s contract but several sources say Edsall’s vision includes the following: coach a few more years, maybe three, get the program headed in the right direction and hand it over to Dunn.
When Edsall left UConn after the 2010 season, UConn hired Paul Pasqualoni, who lasted three years and was succeeded by Bob Diaco, who also lasted three years. UConn had six consecutive losing seasons in that time. Edsall has said the university made a mistake by not hiring someone from the Huskies’ staff to succeed him – namely Joe Moorhead or Hank Hughes.
Dunn should give UConn a viable plan of succession in, say, 2022.
Huskies need to improve: Of course, the Huskies have to win to make that a reality. UConn’s seventh and eighth consecutive losing seasons played out to a 4-20 record since Edsall’s return. Edsall chose to go with a freshman-heavy lineup last season and the team was overwhelmed, mostly on defense. Defensive coordinator Billy Crocker was fired and Lou Spanos was announced Wednesday as his replacement.
Everything went OK by comparison on the other side of the ball, though, and Dunn’s return, more important than anything, provides stability and continuity grossly lacking at the position for years. UConn hasn’t had an offensive coordinator finish a second consecutive season since George DeLeone worked under Pasqualoni in 2011 and 2012.
It’s been an untenable situation, all the movement and failure and second-guessing and starting over.
T.J. Weist took over in 2013, then Mike Cummings under Diaco in 2014. Diaco replaced Cummings in 2015 with Frank Verducci, who lasted nine games into the 2016 season, when David Corley was promoted. Edsall hired Rhett Lashlee, who left for SMU after the 2017 season.
Dunn, 35, worked under Edsall at Maryland as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator — and eventually offensive coordinator under interim coach Mike Locksley, who recently returned to Maryland as coach — before spending two years as an offensive assistant with the Chicago Bears.
He returns to Storrs for a second year with a new two-year contract signed — and, as associate head coach, a place as the clear No. 2 in the UConn football operation.
Because Edsall, 60, facilitated the move by renegotiating his own deal.
Both coaches declined to be interviewed for this column.
Edsall one of lowest-paid head coaches: Edsall was hired in Dec. 2016 at a reduced salary of $1 million ($400,000 base salary plus $600,000 supplemental). With supplemental bumps of $100,000 and $56,000 in the meantime, Edsall’s overall salary (not including minor performance bonuses) was most recently $1,156,000. In the latest agreement, effective Jan. 3, Edsall’s supplemental income was reduced from $756,000 to $606,000, bringing his overall salary down to $1,006,000.
Edsall, who is due for a retention bonus of $100,000 in December, has been, and remains, one of the lowest paid coaches in FBS. And in recent weeks, he pledged to match 10 percent of donations to the football program in an effort to raise $1 million toward facilities renovations.
These are commitments no coach has to make. They are, however, commitments from a coach who clearly cares about succeeding in what he was hired to do and making sure the right support exists, starting from his own office.
For Edsall, it's not about the money: Taking this job was never about money for Edsall, who long ago made enough to live comfortably for years to come.
It was about fixing something he built that was shattered while in the hands of others. It was about one final project to cement his UConn legacy. It was about returning to a place he never should have left, particularly the way he left in the darkness of New Year’s 2011, and making things right.
It has to be about winning, these next few years, at least signs of real growth starting in 2019. The influx of freshmen and sophomores, Edsall’s first recruits, will have a lot to say about where this is headed. So, too, of course, will the coaches charged with developing those players and a certain program culture.
That culture now, as much as any time, includes trust and sharing and partnership.
Dunn received a raise and a promotion he deserved.
Edsall made it happen by prioritizing the program with a selfless move. He did what he asked players to do. He helped a teammate. He made the team better through sacrifice.