SEARCHING FOR THE FUTURE
We don’t know how long it will be before the next full time head football coach at UCONN is introduced. In saying on Saturday there is no timetable athletic director Warde Manuel did make a few things clear. He’s tired of watching games to see how (potential candidates) are doing, and of talking about the search and who might be candidates. He also said this move is not about rebuilding, he thinks UCONN has a lot to attract the right candidate.
“I look at what we have”, he told a gathering of media at Rentschler Field, “The facilities, the stadium, the institution, the fans and say this is a job that people want because they know we’ve performed and won multiple championships.”
The list of potential candidates is an indication that Manuel can attract the best, with Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi expected to be among the first to make the trip to Storrs, as manuel won’t be recruiting by proxy. “I want to see somebody’s face”, he said, “This is not a drive by interview.”
On January 1st Narduzzi will be coaching in the Rose Bowl and he’s likely to have caught the attention of other athletic directors, a situation Manuel knows he’s likely to have to deal with with any number of his candidates. “I’m well aware of the jobs that are open”, he said, “And I’m well aware of the other places people might be interested in that are in my pool of candidates. I’m not interested in playing back and forth with people, you have a choice, here’s what I have to offer.”
While the issue of conference affiliation is out there, the AAC seen as a lesser league compared to the big five that are on the cusp of ruling college football, Manuel says he’s not concerned with that. “I think it’s a great conference. This is good football and I’m not going to let anyone diminish the American Athletic Conference and the football schools that are in it.”
Others believed to be on Manuel’s short list are Ball State coach Pete Lembo and Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson, who will both also be coaching in bowl games in the next month, and both would want a move that would represent a step up, which would most likely mean membership in one of those five power leagues. UCONN is positioned for a potential invitation to the Big Ten. With the academic, research and technology improvements under president Susan Herbst UCONN is on the threshhold of fulfilling the final qualifications for Big Ten membership. The critical linchpin now is football. The infrastructure is in place. What’s needed is a demonstrated committment to football, after years of selling itself as a basketball school in a basketball league. That committment will come at a price.
While Manuel indicated he won’t spend “Nick Saban money”, the next coach can expect a big time committment in the neighborhood of two million a year for three to five years. While he’s refused to discuss where interim head coach T.J. Weist, who led the Huskies to three straight wins to end an otherwise dismal season, fits in the future equation, Manuel says he is under consideration.
Warde Manuel is at the most critical juncture, perhaps, in UCONN sports history, with the future of all other sports at the school riding on his next decision and the committment he’s willing to put behind that decision. Now it’s about body of work, and T.J. Weist may not have had enough time yet to build the body of work that warrants that kind of committment. The guess here is we haven’t yet met the next head coach at UCONN, but it won’t be long before we do, probably before he coaches in his bowl game.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.