By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Paul Pasqualoni says he tries to ignore the building chatter that he could be a one year-and done head coach at Connecticut unless the Huskies’ season takes a dramatic turn for the better.
Fresh off its first-ever BCS bowl in January, UConn is 2-3 heading into conference play on Saturday, where it likely will be an underdog in at least its next three games. The Huskies head to No. 16 West Virginia (4-1) on Saturday before hosting South Florida (4-1), and visiting Pittsburgh (3-2).
The Huskies returned 17 starters from last year’s Fiesta Bowl team, including nine on defense, but have beaten only Fordham, which hadn’t played a FBS-level team in 57 years, and Buffalo in Pasqualoni’s first year at the helm.
“I expected to have growing pains,” Pasqualoni said on Tuesday. “It’s time for us to get over that hump now and play
Last week’s 38-31 loss to Western Michigan, like Buffalo, a Mid-American conference team, had fans speculating that the Huskies could tumble from first to worst in the Big East this season and Pasqualoni’s job could be in jeopardy, just months after he signed a five-year, $8.5 million contract.
Pasqualoni, who grew up in Cheshire and spent 14 years as head coach at Syracuse, was touted as a perfect fit for the program when Randy Edsall bolted to Maryland following the Huskies 48-20 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
But there are several off-the-field factors that could work against him.
Robert Burton, the football program’s biggest booster, is not among his supporters. After Pasqualoni was named coach, Burton demanded his millions back, and asked that his name taken off the team’s football complex because he was unhappy with the hire and felt his opinion was being ignored. Burton, whose son played for Pasqualoni at Syracuse, was talked into keeping his money and his name with the program, but recently told the Greenwich Time that he had no regrets over his comments.
“A couple of people asked me, `Would you do it over again?”’ Burton told the newspaper “The answer is, yes, I would. I felt that as a $7 million donor I had the right to make a recommendation and I did not get that opportunity.”
Pasqualoni lost a big ally in the department when Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway, the man who hired him, retired in August after the school’s new president, Susan Herbst, launched a review of his handling of the athletic department.
The school also has been pursuing membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and a poor showing by the football team on the field hasn’t helped its resume, or Pasqualoni’s job security.
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to those type of things,” Pasqualoni said this week. “We are working hard here with the kids in the program that we have and we’re encouraged…we’re certainly not discouraged, but encouraged about a lot of things going on here.”
There have been some signs of improvement, especially on offense Tailback Lyle McCombs has rushed for 502 yards, and quarterback Johnny McEntee put up the first 300-yard game of his career against Western Michigan.
McEntee said he is angered by talk that coach’s job could be in jeopardy.
“I see it sometimes and it does upset me,” he said. “Because I know that one little thing goes different in each game and we’re probably 5-0. I don’t think it’s as much on the coaches as they are putting it.”
West Virginia coach coach Dana Holgorsen, who is 4-1 in his first season, said he believes a lot of UConn’s struggles can be attributed to learning the new system.
“Every snap that I’ve seen out of UConn has been very competitive,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which one of their
opponents it’s been, they’ve been very competitive. They’ve got a lot of returning guys. You might can attribute it possibly, much like ourselves offensively, just to change, coaching staff and all that, which it took us a little bit to get going as well.”
The players point out there is still plenty of time for the Huskies to turn things around. UConn was 3-4 going into the West Virginia game last year, and many fans were calling for Randy Edsall to be fired. The Huskies won that game 16-13, starting a five-game winning streak that propelled them into the Fiesta Bowl
“Since we were in that situation so recently last year, people around here aren’t panicking, we’re not nervous,” said receiver Nick Williams. “We know that we’re about to start conference play and everyone’s still has their chins high.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)