In those hours of travel, Randy Edsall, the coach who directed UConn’s upgrade to the Football Bowl Subdivision and then led the Huskies to a BCS bowl game, had accepted the coaching job at Maryland. But Edsall never mentioned the situation to his team in the locker room after the 48-20 loss to the No. 9 Sooners in Scottsdale, Ariz. And he took a private jet to Maryland rather than boarding the UConn team’s charter flight.
So, as most UConn football fans remember, the Huskies got the news in a very impersonal manner.
“I found out after we got off the plane,” Moore said. “When everyone turned on their phones, there were lots of messages.”
One of those messages was directly from Edsall. And later that day Moore joined a group of UConn players who spoke to Edsall via conference call. But to this day, more than 20 months later, people criticize the Maryland coach for not finding a better way to handle the news.
And with UConn (1-1) heading to College Park, Md., to face Edsall and his Terps (2-0) at Byrd Stadium on Saturday (12:30 p.m., SNY), it’s only natural that the Huskies who played for the 11-year UConn coach are going to be dealing with some extreme emotions this week.
They don’t need reminders. They can’t wipe it from their memory board. It was a significant moment, it was personal, and it will remain with them forever.
“I was hurt. I was hurt,” Moore said in late July, before UConn opened preseason camp. “But that was the initial feeling. At the end of the day, I love Coach Edsall, man. He’s been a really big piece of why I’m here, why I’m doing what I’m doing.
“There’s no hate. Was I happy when it initially happened? No, that was my guy. But he had to do the best thing for himself.”
This is a two-game series, with Maryland scheduled to visit Connecticut in 2013. It stares off the schedule card as the highlight of this season for some who are still bitter about Edsall’s unexpected exodus.
Randy Edsall Week officially began Saturday at Rentschler Field, in the interview room, just minutes after the Huskies lost 10-7 against North Carolina State. Reporters, many of them television crews that have only two opportunities per week to get videotape interviews with UConn players, asked questions about the upcoming game.
"It's not going to be hard to get fired up for that up one, definitely," senior defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. "That's about it. That's all I'm going to say about that."
Asked if the upperclassmen are still filled with bitterness about the way Edsall left, Wirth tried not to comment but gave everyone a little glimpse of where this stands.
“You know what? I’m not going to comment on that,” Wirth said. "We're going to get it done. We're going to practice our ass off and we're just going to get it done."
|Edsall celebrated at South Florida when UConn won its BCS bid (US PRESSWIRE)|
Edsall’s time at Maryland hasn’t been easy. And the way he left UConn hasn’t been the only criticism he has faced. He was replacing a popular head coach in Ralph Friedgen and won his first game against Miami, but finished 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The only other win came against Towson. The Terps ranked 108th in the nation in total defense.
Edsall remains a self-proclaimed disciplinarian. It is his way or the highway. Quarterback Danny O’Brien, who some considered the face of the program, was one of 25 players who transferred. Edsall replaced both of his coordinators and Washington columnists called for his firing.
After the 2011 season ended with a 56-41 loss to North Carolina State, The Washington Post’s John Feinstein wrote: “Here’s the real reason Edsall should be fired: He doesn’t get it. He didn’t get it a year ago, when he didn’t have the class to tell his Connecticut players in person that he was leaving. He didn’t get it when he started spouting off about rules as if he had invented the idea of discipline.”
We expect to hear from Edsall Tuesday during UConn’s weekly press conference. But Chuck Banning of The New London Day visited with Edsall in July in College Park, Md., and the story ran Monday. Among other things, Edsall said Saturday’s game “won’t be [just another game].” He points out he recruited a lot of the UConn players and he still wants them to “win every week, except for one. . . .”
He also says that he would have “loved to have talked to the guys in person” when he decided to leave for Maryland. “But that’s the nature of the profession of which I’m part of. I’m not sure there could ever be a good time. You just try to do what’s right and make the best of the situation you’re faced with.”
Back on Aug. 23, at the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Edsall’s successor at UConn, Paul Pasqualoni, was talking about this year’s schedule during his speech.
“We then go to Maryland, OK, enough said,” he was quoted as saying by The Hartford Courant. “That’s going to be an interesting game. It’s going to be an intense deal, be a lot of fun. We’ll be ready to play that one.”
Pasqualoni has hinted at that same message in other settings. He knows the emotions will be high. But now that the game is approaching, he is trying to defuse the issue and push it to the side. That is admirable, but not possible.
“That stuff is all stuff you guys like to write about,” Pasqualoni said. “It gives you some material. But there’s so much to get ready for and the game requires so much focus and attention that if we fall into that trap of getting involved in that type of emotional stuff before a game, it’s going to make us, I think, less competitive and less prepared.
“So I’m going to try and explain to these guys and I think they’re in this mode, ‘Hey, the most important thing we’re doing is it’s the University of Connecticut players are playing the University of Maryland players. The coaches at Maryland and the coaches at Connecticut – because we have [former Maryland defensive coordinator] Don Brown here, too - the coaches here are not playing one play. I promise you they’re not going to be in for one play. They’re not playing. They’re not up, they’re not in the gameplan. So you guys need to get ready to play the opponent, the opposition and that’s the players from Maryland, so let’s concentrate on that.”
Just for clarification, Pasqualoni was asked if he definitely needs to address his players about checking their emotions.
“Ah, you know, I don’t know if I do,” he said. “Before you brought it up I really hadn’t thought about it. You know, we talk about this stuff, the focus and the amount of intensity and energy it requires to play this game. I bring that stuff up every week. I talk about that all the time so, yeah, I guess in a way it would come up. I don’t know if I would specifically bring Coach Edsall’s name up but I think they get it and they understand.”
Moore seems to back up that statement.
“It’s not something you can say we’ve got circled on our calendar,” the senior linebacker said. “The season is bigger than just Maryland vs. UConn.”
The bottom line is this will be the main storyline going into this game. Once The Opening kickoff takes place, the competition for a victory will take over. But the emotions are something each individual must deal with on a personal basis.
|Edsall cried with his UConn players at Jasper Howard's candlelight vigil (US PRESSWIRE)|
For example, UConn senior offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett is from Alexandria, Va., and he is thinking more about having family and friends at the game
“To me, it’s just the next game,” Bennett said. “I want to go down there and prove that we can put on a better show than we did [against North Carolina State].”
But for others, like Moore – who always feeds off the emotion of the game – it’s going to be strange seeing Edsall on the opposite sideline. When Moore talks about all the coaches he has had in high school and college, it’s not surprising to hear his answer when asked to name the one who motivated him most and drove him the hardest.
“Oh Big Edsall. Big Edsall,” said Moore (in video below talking to reporters on Saturday) . “I look at it now and I laugh, but Coach Edsall, from day one, I remember the summer I got here, he chewed my head off pretty good right upstairs [in the coach’s office]. And he always was on my tail.
“But he was on it because he knew, you know, that I could do something with myself. The thing about coaches . . . if they’re not on your back, that’s when you’ve got a problem.”