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On college football

Interest high on the Huskies’ hire

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 4, 2011

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Randy Edsall left the University of Connecticut to become coach at the University of Maryland not so much because it was the right place — one could argue the move was lateral at best.

No, Edsall left because it was the right time. After 12 years of building the UConn program, he had a finished product, which produced the Huskies’ first Bowl Championship Series appearance.

Forget that Saturday night’s meeting with Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium was a 48-20 blowout in favor of the Sooners. The joy for UConn was in finally making the trip.

For Edsall, however, it was the end of one journey. Realistically, the Huskies’ chances of returning to the BCS any time soon are marginal. Especially if one considers the rising Big East presence of South Florida under Skip Holtz and new blood at West Virginia (eventually) and Pittsburgh (hopefully), as well as the 2012 inclusion of Texas Christian, which is coming off a 13-0 season and Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

So Edsall needed to play the BCS card. He could have waited a few days and looked at the Michigan job, if it opens as expected. He could have considered Pitt. He could have seen if the job at Stanford opened. That’s a lot of “ifs,’’ though.

And then there was Maryland, where the position was open and the Terrapins called. And when they offered the job, Edsall said yes. He can make Maryland better, and it is a new challenge in a new conference.

Yesterday at his introductory news conference, Edsall talked about the emotional conflict he went through following UConn’s loss to Oklahoma, not flying home with the team but instead winging his way to College Park for an interview with Maryland officials.

“I would have liked to see those young men in person to tell them,’’ said Edsall. “I wasn’t able to do that, so I thought I would try to do the next best thing. I think there were probably about 40 kids [he talked with] on the phone.

“I just tried to express to them why certain things happen in life, and how they’re going to be faced with issues in their future, that they’re going to do things that they think are best for them and their family, and because you have an opportunity to get a job that you always dreamed about, they’ll always understand why I did what I did.

“I told them I love them, and wish them good luck, but the great thing about college athletics, and most especially football, is the relationships that you develop with the young men that you coach. The wins are great, the losses stink, but it’s the relationships that last forever.’’

UConn and athletic director Jeff Hathaway also must move on. The program, which once was at the 1-AA level, is now a solid BCS program in a conference in which the Huskies can compete fairly equally with anyone.

But after yesterday naming Hank Hughes, the Huskies’ assistant head coach for defense the last six seasons, as interim coach, they must choose the right person to take over for Edsall.

According to sources at UConn familiar with the process, Hathaway has a working list of six candidates:

■ Former Syracuse coach and current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.

■Former UMass coach Mark Whipple.

■Delaware coach K.C. Keeler.

■Chris Palmer, coach and general manager of the Hartford Colonials of the UFL.

New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

■Former Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini.

Palmer, Pasqualoni, Gilbride, and Mangini all have Connecticut roots.

Yesterday Hathaway was, as expected, mum about his plans, stating only that he wanted to move as quickly and prudently possible. Recruiting season is in full swing, and the Huskies need a leader who can hit the turf running with a plan.

At the latest, Hathaway has until the end of the week to focus on his candidate.

He could make a bold move and try to gobble up Rich Rodriguez if the Wolverines get rid of him in the next few days. Rodriguez is a good coach who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. His style would energize UConn quickly and he would field a team with offensive flair.

The issue of Rodriguez being charged with NCAA rules violations could be a deal-breaker, however.

Hathaway could and should also look at someone like Whipple, who was a victim of the purge at Miami when Temple’s Al Golden was brought in to replace Randy Shannon as coach.

Whipple knows New England — he has coached and won at Brown, New Haven, and UMass. He knows how to recruit. He knows offense. He knows the NFL, having served stints at Pittsburgh and Miami. He can energize the program, as well.

Whipple also could bring along his former defensive coordinator, Don Brown, who did the job at Maryland for the past few years, as part of a staff that would have big-time credentials and could make an immediate impact.

Hathaway also should consider a coordinator who has the recruiting skill, personality, and coaching ability that is necessary. Few fit that description better than Boston College’s Billy McGovern, who has done a superb job in his two years as Frank Spaziani’s defensive coordinator.

McGovern also has ties to New Jersey and its strong recruiting base.

Rodriguez, Whipple, and McGovern should be at the top of Hathaway’s short list. All would listen and all would help UConn at least maintain its position as one of the forces in the ever-changing Big East.

The talk of going into the NFL for deposed head coaches with New England ties — Mangini, Gilbride, or Pasqualoni — may be too risky. And they might not want to deal with the quirky recruiting regulations and other time constraints on college coaches.

Hathaway might have considered Golden, or Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, but Golden was hired by Miami and Addazio was named to replace Golden at Temple.

UConn football is at a crossroads. It can move forward or it can retreat. A new president is in place in Storrs, watching what Hathaway does. Yet Hathaway also must be comfortable with the person he hires.

One of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s favorite sayings was, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.’’

UConn and Hathaway need to follow that philosophy in the next few days.

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