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August 16, 2011

New challenge at UConn excites Pasqualoni

NEWPORT, R.I. - All new Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni needs to do to be reminded of the passage of time since he last coached a college game is look at his roster.

That's where he'll see the name Tebucky Jones Jr. This Tebucky is the son of Pasqualoni's star defensive back at Syracuse from 1995-97.

"I don't feel old," Pasqualoni said at the recent Big East Media Day event. "But it certainly shows the years have gone by."

At 62, Pasqualoni is the oldest coach in the Big East by 11 years; he's nine years older than predecessor Randy Edsall.

As an assistant in the NFL since he was ushered out of Syracuse seven years ago, Pasqualoni never left the game, but he hadn't had to delve into recruiting and schmoozing boosters since his time at Syracuse. He's not doing a bad job of catching up, though.

He doesn't have a Facebook account, but he's savvy enough with technology to search for YouTube highlights in an effort to get a feel for certain recruits. When he took the job and met with his team in the spring, he prepared a PowerPoint presentation to present team rules and goals.

He's up-to-date enough to know he needs to keep an eye on where his team spends some of its free time or perhaps how his players spend some of their money.

"Knowing the cost of a tattoo artist for an hour - that was new on my list of things to know," Pasqualoni said. "Do you know how much they get an hour? 250 bucks."

If there's another clear example that shows how many years have passed since Pasqualoni last led a college program, it's with the program he has taken over.

In 2004, Connecticut finished off its first season in the Big East with its first bowl bid. Now, Pasqualoni takes over a Huskies program coming off its first BCS bid - a 48-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl but a BCS appearance nonetheless.

For a program that didn't play Division I-A football until 2000, the past decade has represented a quick rise for UConn, a basketball school in a non-traditional market.

"Every team in this league has a good chance to win the league championship. When I was at Syracuse, I don't think that was always the case."
- Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut coach
Pasqualoni has deep Connecticut ties. He's a graduate of Cheshire (Conn.) High who took his first college head-coaching job at Division III Western Connecticut State in 1982. He said he wasn't shocked to see a team from the Constitution State playing on New Year's Day. In the first meeting between the schools in 2004, Connecticut gave Pasqualoni's last Syracuse team a fight in a 42-30 loss. The Huskies have won five of their seven games against the Orange.

"There were a number of doubters," Pasqualoni said. "Having grown up in Connecticut, when the University of Connecticut has done anything, they've had success at what they've done. When we played them that year, we got ready to play them [as we would any other team]. It was clear to me at that point they were going to compete."

Connecticut's evolution into a Big East contender has brought new expectations. After the Huskies hired Pasqualoni, Connecticut athletics' largest donor, Robert Burton, demanded the program return his $3 million donation because he was left out of the loop of the coaching hire. Burton's displeasure hardly was a ringing endorsement for Pasqualoni, who had coached Burton's son at Syracuse.

Some of the players were easier to win over, though.

A day after the Fiesta Bowl loss, Edsall told his players on a conference call he had taken the Terrapins' job. Eleven days later, Connecticut hired Pasqualoni.

Initially, players weren't up-to-date on his resume which included a 107-59-1 record in 14 seasons at Syracuse. The list of Pasqualoni's former players, though, impressed wide receiver Kashif Moore, who did a quick internet search to see that his new coach had worked with Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison at Syracuse.

"It made me real confident to know he coached those guys," Moore said. "I watched those guys growing up."

Despite his absence from college football, Pasqualoni isn't short on energy, players said. Pasqualoni will need that energy to get the most out of his first team, which has major holes to fill off its Fiesta Bowl team.

The biggest void was left by tailback Jordan Todman, who left school early for the NFL draft after rushing for 1,695 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Although the Huskies' passing game didn't put fear in the heart of opponents, they also need to replace starting quarterback Zach Frazer. The new starter remains in question. The receiver group also has been beset by untimely departures.

But Connecticut figures to have strong lines - and could have the top line on each side of the ball in the league. In addition, there's an easy non-conference schedule (Fordham, Vanderbilt, Iowa State, Buffalo and Western Michigan) that will help Connecticut's quest for a bowl bid even if the Huskies struggle in conference play.

In short, if Pasqualoni is high on energy, the team will need every bit it can get.

"When we're out on the field, he's getting after us, just like any other coach," cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson said. "I don't feel like there's a generation gap because he's been coaching the whole time. He's been in the game."

times change
Few conferences have undergone as much change in membership as the Big East since its inception as a football conference in 1991. Here's a look at what the Big East looked like in three key points of Paul Pasqualoni's career - his first season at Syracuse in 1991, his last season at Syracuse in 2004 and his first season at Connecticut in 2011.
1991 Big East teams (coach)
Boston College (Tom Coughlin)
Miami (Dennis Erickson)
Pittsburgh (Paul Hackett)
Rutgers (Doug Graber)
Syracuse (Pasqualoni)
Temple (Jerry Berndt)
Virginia Tech (Frank Beamer)
West Virginia (Don Nehlen)

2004 Big East teams (coach)
Boston College (Tom O'Brien)
Connecticut (Randy Edsall)
Pittsburgh (Walt Harris)
Rutgers (Greg Schiano)
Syracuse (Pasqualoni)
Temple (Bobby Wallace)
West Virginia (Rich Rodriguez)

2011 Big East teams (coach)
Cincinnati (Butch Jones)
Connecticut (Pasqualoni)
Louisville (Charlie Strong)
Pittsburgh (Todd Graham)
Rutgers (Schiano)
Syracuse (Doug Marrone)
USF (Skip Holtz)
West Virginia (Dana Holgorsen)
Through his stints with the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys, Pasqualoni thought about returning to college. He told friends, including former Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel, he was interested in taking over a college program again. The question would be finding the right fit. He had spent his entire college coaching career in Connecticut or in upstate New York.

For someone who went 16-20 in his final three seasons at Syracuse, Pasqualoni also wouldn't be the eye-popping hire many programs would seek.

"I couldn't tell you what college job was open," Pasqualoni said. "Obviously, I knew Connecticut was open because I live here and my mother gets the paper. It was hard not to know this job was open."

That's why Crouthamel, who promoted Pasqualoni in 1991 to replace Dick MacPherson, believes Connecticut's new coach will be successful.

The coach has navigated the landscape for decades. At Big East Media Day, Pasqualoni was greeted with a fair share of "welcome backs."

"He was recruiting in this area for how many years - he knows the area," Crouthamel said. "He knows coaches, a lot of coaches. He's going to do a great job, just as Randy did."

This also isn't the Big East that Pasqualoni left, the one where Miami won national championships and Virginia Tech played for one, and the prospect of coaching in a wide-open league excites Pasqualoni.

From the time the Big East started playing a full eight-game schedule in 1993 until the Hurricanes left for the ACC in 2003, the Hurricanes won or shared the league championship seven times. That doesn't count 1991 and '92, when Miami spent back-to-back seasons ranked in the top three, including the 1991 national championship. Since the league reorganized in 2005, four teams (Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and West Virginia) have represented the Big East in the BCS.

"Every team in this league has a good chance to win the league championship," Pasqualoni said. "When I was at Syracuse, I don't think that was always the case."

UConn proved that point last season. Under Pasqualoni, the Huskies hope their time at the top of the Big East is one thing that won't change.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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