By PAT EATON-ROBB
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Bob Diaco made quite an impression in his first news conference at UConn.
The 40-year-old former Notre Dame defensive coordinator was introduced Thursday after signing a five-year, $8 million deal to become the school’s 30th head coach.
The wildly enthusiastic New Jersey native spoke like a salesman in raving about UConn’s academics (calling it a “public Ivy”), the Northeast recruiting base, and the school’s facilities and current talent pool.
He talked about avoiding “energy vampires” who suck the enthusiasm out of life, and quoted everyone from St. Augustine (in Latin) to Garth Brooks in explaining how he plans to build the Huskies into a championship program.
The former Iowa linebacker said the winning will start immediately, whether in the classroom or in offseason conditioning, but would not be pinned down on how soon that might translate to the field, in terms of bowl games or conference titles.
“It’s a process and you set up winning and you set up wins, and you make winning choices,” he said. “And you have competitive environments in your meetings, you have a competitive environments in your winter conditioning.”
Diaco said he will meet with the current UConn coaches, including interim coach T.J. Weist, before deciding whether any will be offered positions on his staff. He would not say if he plans to ask any other Notre Dame coaches to join him at UConn.
“I have a collection of people in my life that are really good people, and they are loyal and they’re trustworthy, and they are teachers and they are communicators,” he said. “Whether they come or not come…we signed the documents at about 1:30 a.m., so I surely wasn’t interested in waking anybody up out of bed.”
The Huskies went 3-9 this season, firing coach Paul Pasqualoni after an 0-4 start. But the Huskies finished by winning their last three games, under Weist, who was hired in the offseason to be UConn’s offensive coordinator.
Athletic Director Warde Manuel said Diaco was on his radar almost from the beginning of the search process as he looked at the last few coaches who had won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.
Diaco won the award in 2012, when Notre Dame allowed just fewer than 13 points per game and played in the BCS title game.
Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi, who won the award this year, withdrew his name from the UConn search Wednesday afternoon.
But Manuel insisted that Diaco was his top choice.
“This is the person I chose, and he was the first interview of the day,” Manuel said. “And it was a great interview, and he was constantly there on my mind.”
Diaco spent four seasons with the Irish, and also has coached at Cincinnati, Virginia, Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan.
Diaco’s compensation, which includes a $400,000 base salary, will rise from $1.5 million in the first year to $1.7 million in the fifth. His contract also calls for incentives that range from a month’s salary for making it to a bowl game to $400,000 for winning the football playoff championship. He also will get a $500,000 bonus if he is still coach on Dec. 31, 2018.
Diaco said he was on a plane heading to New York to meet up with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly when he got the call that Manuel wanted to meet with him. He said his family found out he was taking the job from media reports, before anything had been finalized.
“That was hard,” he said.
Kelly said UConn is getting “a top-notch recruiter, tremendous leader of young men and brilliant coach.”
What they won’t be getting is an energy vampire.
“I wasn’t saying I wanted the opposite of what I had,” Manuel said. “What I was looking for is the best coach. He does bring that passion. He does bring that energy.”
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