UConn coach struggling in return to Big East
Paul Pasqualoni left his heart in Connecticut and his coaching soul in college football. He reclaimed them both in January 2011, replacing Randy Edsall as coach of the UConn Huskies.
“This was, for me, absolutely the right fit,” Pasqualoni said during his introductory news conference. “Being comfortable, knowing the terrain.”
Two seasons into the job, back in the Big East after six years in the NFL, the terrain remains rocky, a comfort zone elusive.
As the Syracuse coach for 14 seasons, Pasqualoni won more games there than anyone except the legendary Ben Schwartzwalder.
But this time around is different, so far. After just five wins last season, the Huskies are 3-6 going into Friday's home game against Pitt. They have four straight losses. One more and UConn will miss postseason play for a second straight year.
Led by school career sack leader Trevardo Williams, the Huskies top the Big East in total defense and only 20 FBS teams have yielded fewer points per game. But nationally, UConn ranks 117th out of 120 in scoring, 116th in rushing and 100th in sacks allowed, due mainly to departures and injury along the offensive line and general inconsistency.
“It's been an accumulation of a bunch of little things,” said Pasqualoni, 63. “I can't say it's any one guy or any particular position. ... That's uncharacteristic of the University of Connecticut.
“This is a team that's done a good job running the football over the years. We expected to be better at running the football than we've been.”
The Huskies lost, 13-6, last week to South Florida. They are scoreless in the fourth quarter of their last four games.
“It's kind of been one thing after another,” Pasqualoni said.
A native of Cheshire, Conn., the genial, white-haired Pasqualoni coached at his hometown high school before working six years as an assistant at Southern Connecticut and another six as head coach at Western Connecticut State. He took an assistant's job at Syracuse and after four years became head coach in 1991. During 14 seasons, the Orangemen won four Big East titles and six of nine bowl games. Only Schwarzwalder, a Hall of Famer who won 153 games from 1949-1973, has more wins at Syracuse than Pasqualoni's 107.
“A very well-respected coach,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “Shoot, we all remember what he did as an assistant and as a head coach at Syracuse.”
Notes: Chryst said middle linebacker Shane Gordon, who hasn't started the past three games due to a high-ankle sprain, may return Friday. “He's gotten better,” Chryst said. “The more that he has done this week, it hasn't blown up more. Shane is one of our better linebackers. It can give a thin group some depth.” ... Backup outside linebacker Emanuel Rackard (knee) won't make the trip. ... Chryst said it was not his intention to give Rushel Shell only one carry against Notre Dame. “Truthfully, I don't feel good about that,” he said.
Jerry DiPaola contributed to this report. Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7810.