By PAT EATON-ROBB
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Bob Diaco walked around Connecticut’s football complex with a pad and pen shortly after becoming the Huskies’ new head coach.
He made drawings of every hallway and every room, with pages of notes on the changes he wanted to make – diagraming everything including the color he wanted the handrails repainted.
The first-time head coach, who turned 41 on Wednesday, considers himself to be detail oriented.
“My wife would probably describe me as obsessive compulsive,” he said, straightening the top piece of paper on one of four neat stacks in the exact middle of his desk. “I walk in the building and I literally want to mop that floor. Later, I might get down with a towel and clean that floor.”
Besides a dirty floor, he didn’t like the Shenkman Training Center’s gray walls or corporate feel. He wanted it to be a place of energy and inspiration, and a sanctuary for his team.
A couple months later, the inspirational signs are up and the handrails have a fresh coat of red paint. What was a kicker’s meeting room has been transformed into a snack station, complete with movie-theater like dispensers on the wall, for players who might like some dried fruit or a few mixed nuts. The windows in the players’ lounge have been smoked out to give them more privacy.
There is a hallway decorated with Fathead posters of every rising senior on the team, and the dining hall now has supplement drawers for each player, which will be filled with specific vitamins and nutrient supplements, based on individual blood tests.
Among the new quotes on the walls is one from Og Mandino, author of “The Greatest Salesman in the World.”
“The most difficult tasks are consummated not by a single burst of energy or effort, but by consistent daily application of the best you have within you,” it reads.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said it’s Diaco’s consistent energy and attention to detail that helped him succeed as his defensive coordinator, and will help him become a successful head coach. Diaco makes sure, Kelly said, that everything is done the right way, and that his messages are clear and supportive.
“OCD is compulsive,” Kelly said. “He is not compulsive. He has an order to everything and that order equals winning, and that’s the difference.”
As he did with the building, Diaco is also taking a detailed look at his team, and is planning changes. Spring practice begins on March 10.
“There are massive deficiencies, in terms of the number of personnel,” he said. “There are massive deficiencies in terms of physical and mental development of players. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But underneath that stuff, there’s a great core.”
The first step, he said, is to get bigger and faster. He hopes to do that in the weight room and through recruiting. He had about a month to shore up his first recruiting class, adding a handful of linemen and other big bodies to the group already committed to come to UConn.
He’s also had to deal with the first bit of controversy. The man he hired as running backs coach, Ernest Jones, was admonished by the president of the public university after saying that “Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle.”
Jones resigned this week for personal reasons that the school says have nothing to do with his comment or the reaction to it.
Diaco said his program doesn’t endorse any religion, but is interested in character. Three players, tackle Xavier Hemingway, tailback Joe Williams, and tight end “E.J.” Norris, have left the program in the last month amid legal and academic issues. Hemingway was charged with shoplifting last month, and Williams faces a larceny charge stemming from the theft of a credit card. Diaco said their departures was not his call, and would have liked all three to have stayed so he could have worked with them.
“We’re really going to work hard to add very high character, very smart, very tough people to the team,” he said. “It may not be how you ensure you have a great team, but it’s how you build a good team, and then somebody shocks you, and you’ve added a running back that can’t be tackled, and you didn’t even know.”
Diaco’s style and demeanor have been compared to another man who got his first head coaching opportunity at Connecticut.
Geno Auriemma, who has led UConn’s women’s basketball team to eight national titles since taking over the program as a 31-year-old in 1985, said he likes what he’s seen so far.
“He’s got ideas and he’s got enthusiasm,” Auriemma said. “He’s making changes, and he should have his hand in everything.”
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