If you haven’t heard by now, our former Big East rival UConn decided to fire their football coach Bob Diaco yesterday. He had a similar background to Rutgers football coach Chris Ash before he was hired away from Ohio State, as Diaco was one of the top defensive coordinators in the country at Notre Dame. In his three seasons at UConn, he compiled records of 2-10, 6-7, and 3-9. The timing was a bit odd, as it’s been about a month since UConn’s season ended and just weeks after athletic director David Benedict said he was retaining him.
While our friends at The UConn Blog detailed several issues that most likely led to Diaco’s release, there was one in particular that should be of note to Rutgers fans. Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant reported that one issue was Diaco’s search for a new offensive coordinator. Here is the juicy tidbit that is of interest:
A source — not Benedict — said that former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill was on campus a few weeks back, that Kill wanted the job and Diaco wasn't interested in Kill. Benedict would not comment on this.
Benedict worked at Minnesota when Kill was head coach. He is known as a builder and offensive mind. At 55, he also could have been a mentor. Kill resigned 14 months ago at Minnesota after a number of epileptic seizures, but he has said he has gotten them under control. Last week, he signed a three-year deal as the new Rutgers offensive coordinator.
Thanks for the dig, Jeff. Regardless, I think this is worth discussing, as it relates to our own head coach Chris Ash. As I am sure Ash has learned by now, Rutgers fans are hard to please. While the reaction to Jerry Kill being hired to lead his power spread offense was generally positive, there were plenty of comments in our articles and on message boards of concern over his lack of recent play calling experience, lack of excitement over his offensive pedigree, and his recent health issues. I’m not saying those aren’t valid concerns, but our staff mostly felt this was a great hire for Rutgers and Ash. Remember, there was no perfect candidate.
As this article by The UConn Blog highlights, Diaco, like Ash with Mehringer, had hired someone deep within his own coaching circle who had zero prior coordinator experience at the FBS level. Diaco ultimately fired said coordinator after UConn finished with the lowest scoring offense in the FBS this season. Yes, worse than the Mehringer-led Rutgers offense by 0.9 points. He had first dibs on Kill, as Mehringer was still employed at Rutgers based on the timeline of “a few weeks back” established by Jacobs.
While I cannot speak on the dynamics of the Diaco-Benedict relationship, it’s possible the UConn AD felt his head coach was selling the program short by not seriously considering Kill for the position. His lack of interest in Kill could have sparked more reflection into Diaco’s philosophies and direction of the program, which perhaps led Benedict to conclude that they weren’t in line with what he felt was in the best interests of UConn’s football moving forward. Thus, he changed course and fired him. It’s fair to note that Benedict was not the AD to hire Diaco and there could have been multiple disagreements on the direction of the program. However, there is a large buyout involved in firing Diaco, whether it was after the season or after the New Year. Something changed in Benedict’s view of Diaco as his head coach and I think it’s possible the Kill factor played into that change.
The important aspect of the Kill hire at Rutgers in my opinion is that Ash is showing growth as a head coach by bringing in the more experienced Kill. It demonstrates he learned the mistake of hiring a newbie coordinator and changed his philosophy in the process. He showed that he wasn’t threatened by hiring a former Big Ten Coach of the Year to run his offense and values the knowledge that Kill will bring with him to the banks. This is a major positive in the outlook of Ash’s tenure at Rutgers. That doesn’t mean Kill is a guaranteed success here, but it highlights that Ash’s mindset is first and foremost in bettering the football program and that he is secure enough in his own abilities to make this type of hire. I think that it’s worth noting, especially now that another FBS head coach is out of a job after potentially taking the opposite approach of Ash.
Diaco and Ash had similar backgrounds in taking over two Northeast football programs. There are certainly differences in both schools, namely Rutgers is in a power five conference and UConn is not. However, it’s fair to consider if one failed due to their unwillingness to put aside their ego, while also wondering if the other made their best hire because they did so. Only time will tell, but it’s something to consider as Ash enters his second year in rebuilding Rutgers football.