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HEISER: Randy Edsall's second stint at UConn appears tougher job than first time around

Steve Heiser
York Dispatch
  • Susquehannock grad Randy Edsall is in his second stint as UConn's head football coach.
  • Edsall's 2017 team is 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the American Athletic Conference.
  • UConn faces unbeaten Central Florida on Saturday. The Huskies are a 38-point underdog.

Randy Edsall has been down this road before.

For the second time in his long coaching career, the Susquehannock High School graduate is faced with the daunting task of trying build the University of Connecticut — a school best known for its men’s and women’s basketball exploits — into a football winner.

Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall talks to his team during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in East Hartford, Conn.

The results have not been great in Edsall’s first season back at Storrs. His Huskies are 3-6 and are a whopping 38-point underdog on Saturday against unbeaten Central Florida.

Early struggles, however, are nothing new for Edsall at UConn.

When he arrived for his first stint at the school, the Huskies were undermanned and over-matched nearly every Saturday.

Still, Edsall eventually led the Huskies’ transformation from an average NCAA Division I-AA team into an NCAA Division I-A program that shared two Big East titles and earned five bowl bids, culminating with an unlikely New Year’s Day berth in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011.

That day, however, would have to be considered the high-water mark of Edsall’s coaching career.

The Maryland years: After that Fiesta Bowl, Edsall did not fly back to Connecticut with his team. Instead he flew to Maryland to accept the job as the Terps’ boss. At the time, he called it his dream job. That made sense. The College Park campus is less than 80 miles from Glen Rock, the small York County town where Edsall grew up.

Still, Edsall was justifiably criticized for not first addressing his UConn players before abandoning them for the Maryland job.

That was a harbinger of things to come at Maryland. Edsall’s Terrapin teams never achieved real success. Yes, there were a couple of winning seasons and two bowl berths, but he was fired in the middle of his fifth Maryland season after compiling an overall record of 22-34 at the school.

After getting let go at Maryland, Edsall spent a year with the Detroit Lions, where he was director of football research-special projects. In his late 50s, it looked like Edsall’s head-coaching career might be over.

Returning to UConn: Until UConn, shockingly, came calling again early this year.

Since Edsall left, the Huskies’ football program had fallen on hard times — very hard times. There were six consecutive losing seasons at UConn since his departure, including a 3-9 season in 2016.

By comparison, Edsall’s tenure with the Huskies had to be considered the school’s football golden age.

As a result, UConn was willing to overlook Edsall’s awkward 2011 exit. To his credit, Edsall rightly apologized for that clumsy departure during the news conference announcing his return to the school.

His apology seemed heartfelt and appeared largely accepted by the UConn football community.

Unfortunately for Edsall, there was more controversy to come before he even coached another game at the school.   

The hiring of his son, Corey, as an assistant coach led to a ruling that the hiring violated state laws against nepotism. That case is under appeal.

Susquehannock grad Randy Edsall appeals ruling that found hiring of his son was improper

Then Edsall was lambasted for pulling a scholarship offer from New Jersey recruit Ryan Dickens just three weeks before the national signing day. The previous UConn head coach, Bob Diaco, had given Dickens the offer and Edsall reportedly told Dickens his scholarship was safe, before changing course and rescinding the offer.

HEISER: Tumultuous start for Edsall in return to UConn

Struggling on field: Edsall’s bumpy second ride at UConn continued once the games started in September. The team’s only wins in 2017 have come over Holy Cross, Temple and Tulsa and the Huskies are 2-4 in the American Athletic Conference.

UConn fans, meanwhile, have responded by staying away in droves. The Huskies' home season is over and average attendance at 40,000-seat Rentschler Field was just 20,334 — the worst since the stadium opened in 2003.

Edsall knows he has a huge job ahead of him. The AAC is a highly-underrated conference. Building a consistent winner in that league will not be easy.

Much like his early days during his first tour of duty at UConn, Edsall does not have a roster capable of competing on a weekly basis. His players are too young and just not talented enough.

This time, however, Edsall may have a more difficult time transforming the Huskies into a winner.

He’s 59 now, and recruiting — the lifeblood of any successful team — is largely a young man’s game. And even in his younger days, Edsall was never regarded as a stellar recruiter. He made his name by taking average recruits and coaching them up.

Plus, there’s no denying that Edsall is dealing with some off-the-field baggage that he didn’t have to worry about during his first tenure at UConn.

Finally, Edsall has admitted his toughest job may be ridding the program of a “culture” of losing that enveloped the Huskies during his years away from the school. That lack of success has obviously had a negative impact on fan support.

Yes, Edsall has been down this road before, but the road now is in desperate need of repairs.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.