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2010 College football preview

UConn's Edsall has proven to be a master builder

Randy Edsall is accustomed to making bowl appearances. Randy Edsall is accustomed to making bowl appearances. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / August 30, 2010

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NEWPORT, R.I. — It is early August and Randy Edsall has had a good summer.

“Got away with a buddy of mine and we went to Scotland and played golf,’’ the University of Connecticut football coach said while adjusting his golf bag before the Big East football media day tournament. “We played them all. The Old Course at St. Andrews, Turnberry, Troon. We had a lot of fun. It was the first time I was able to just get away and relax.’’

The time frame is relative of course, with Edsall and his program still reeling from the tragic occurrence of a year ago, when cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death outside the student union. Coaching a Big East team to at least eight wins in each of the last three seasons can be taxing for any coach, but when you throw in such a seismic event, it becomes even more draining.

“Never really took a lot of time to reflect on it,’’ said Edsall of his success, which has made him one of the rising coaching stars after 11 seasons at UConn. “There was so much going on, with all that stuff and then you got right into recruiting. It’s been quite a run.’’

Edsall’s golf season ended on media day. His football season begins Saturday when UConn travels to Michigan to face Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines.

Normally, the game would be labeled a mismatch. A long and storied program, playing in the “Big House’’ against an upstart program that wasn’t elevated to the Football Bowl Subdivision until 10 years ago?

But as the Huskies have proven over the last few years, tradition can be built with victories and a solid foundation.

Edsall’s pedigree is strong, as a player and assistant coach at Syracuse, then assistant jobs with Boston College, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Georgia Tech before former UConn athletic director Lew Perkins hired him to replace Skip Holtz in 1999.

Edsall has slowly and steadily built the Huskies into a Big East contender. “We have always had high expectations,’’ said Edsall, who has drawn interest from a variety of schools, including Clemson, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, and South Florida. “If we didn’t feel that way, we wouldn’t have gotten to the point we’re at right now.’’

Edsall has watched the UConn program grow from a small-time operation to one that plays in the state-of-the-art Rentschler Field in East Hartford and practices in the Burton Family Football Complex on campus.

“It’s amazing the changes we’ve had,’’ said Edsall, who remembers when his office was in a trailer next to Gampel Pavilion. “Now we have a facility where if it’s too hot we move practice indoors. It’s been a tremendous challenge. But we had a philosophy that laid a foundation: If you work hard and prepare the right way, anything is possible.’’

The Huskies are not favored to win the Big East this season, but they are regarded as contenders. Their three main challengers — West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati — all must travel to Connecticut this season.

The success of UConn football comes with a sense that it is not a fluke.

“If 20 years ago you would have said that Connecticut football is at the level it is now, everybody would have laughed at you,’’ said Holtz, who laid the foundation for the transition to Division 1-A. “It makes me proud to see the great job that Randy has done.’’

Edsall feels he has already taken UConn to the next level. Last year’s events tested not only his skill, but his will as he guided his team through some tense times while trying to keep everyone from falling apart emotionally.

It wasn’t until his trip to Scotland that Edsall was finally able to step back and take a deep breath, and begin thinking about the future instead of the past, or even the present.

Winning seasons and bowl appearances have become a staple of UConn football. But Edsall understands the landscape could change with the fragility of the Big East, which could be raided if other conferences look to expand.

“As a coach, you learn you can’t control that part of the business,’’ said Edsall. “So we don’t even worry about it.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.