Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant yesterday reiterated what seems to be a constant refrain these days:
5. With how Randy Edsall has turned UConn into a sustained Big East force so quickly, has he become the new Greg Schiano -- a guy from a non-traditional football school who gets looks from big-time football powers?
I covered national college football before I came on the UConn beat and that meant I got a chance to talk to a lot of coaches and many said the guy is just on the ball and has the potential to be a star in the business based on what he's done and what he's doing. Think about it. They were playing I-AA football not to long ago. It speaks to coaching and recruiting that they could get a piece of the conference title last year. That makes him attractive to other schools. Though I could be wrong, I don't think he leaves for a while.
Just how good of a coach is Edsall? I am not going to argue that Edsall isn't terrific with Xs and Os, because he is. Edsall either is excellent at talent evaluation, or at talent development, because his teams are usually competitive despite never ranking highly in the minds of recruiting services. Of course, the flipside is that he has never really had much luck in convincing players to come to UConn. Whether that means he is a poor recruiter, the UConn football program still has a ways to go, or there just isn't a lot of talent to go around in the Northeast is unclear.
Randy Edsall and UConn arguably stormed onto the national scene in 2003, when they finished 9-3 as an independent, riding the arm of one Dan Orlovsky. They had another strong season in 2004 when their football program first joined the Big East. UConn surprised to a 9-4 record last season, and is off to a 5-1 start so far in 2008.
But what about 2005 and 2006 though? UConn finished a combined 9-14 in both years. Approximately a quarter of their roster was dismissed in both seasons due to a series of embarrassing off-the-field incidents. An increasingly combative and defensive Edsall even felt the need to take shots at fellow Big East schools in his press conferences, falsely attributing his team's lack of success due to the difficulties in competing with programs with laxer admissions standards.
I can easily recall back to 2006 and remember all the pronouncements, from both Rutgers fans and the national media, regarding the unassailable coaching genius of one Greg Schiano. Indeed, I myself even attributed some of his earlier gaffes to growing pains, and hoped the team's wonderful season was in a large part attributable to his growth as a coach.
Intuitively, I think people are a little too quick to look for one central figure to blame or praise when things go extraordinarily well or poorly. Things are probably far more complex to be explained by any one grand overarching theory, so much so that it's very difficult to properly analyze what's really going on in the space of a few paragraphs. A great deal of success on the field is simply due to chance and randomness, and as such is inherently cyclic. Any narrative is going to have a great deal of retroactive generalizations, and a lot of these are going to be pure hooey. It's hard to discern which recent historical events has relevant predictive value, and even the best analyses can't account for all sorts of peculiar variables and bumps in the road that may come up.
I think Randy Edsall is a good coach. I do not think he is a great coach. That's similar to my position on Greg Schiano, who has different strengths and weaknesses. Neither is "better" than the other. They're different people, with different, and equally valid, approaches towards building a successful football program. My position on Greg Schiano before the season was "good, not great". Now that Rutgers is off to a 1-5 start (despite several close losses), my position has not changed. Greg Schiano is a good coach, not a great coach. Fans and the media are too quick to overreact and panic when things are going poorly, just as they were too quick with praise earlier (and likely will be in the future). That does not excuse the numerous mistakes that both coaches have made.
Here is my simple plea: let's have a little less hero worship, and a little more patience, and a little more focus on the fundamentals of what builds strong football programs that can sustain success. For instance, I think a lot of UConn's more recent success has less to do with pure distilled Lombardian genius, and more to due with their recent investment in significant facility upgrades for their athletic programs.