STORRS – The first UConn football spring practice, new coach Bob Diaco said upon entering the interview room Monday, is in the books.
And with it, the hope is, a culture of winning and the hard work that goes into it will soon follow.
"Everybody that was supposed to be here was accounted for, here on time and ready and energetic, had the right attitude, the right demeanor," said Diaco, who appeared just as excited to coach after practice as he did before it began. "They sat in meetings appropriately. We kept it in and out. We kept it moving, just like we do. They had great focus, great attitude."
And that's a start.
Diaco can begin molding this team for the next 14 practices, which include the Blue-White spring game April 12 at Rentschler Field (3 p.m.).
"It's still a team that needs to come a long way in caring for each other," Diaco said flatly of a team that went 3-9 last season and hasn't been to a bowl game since the January 2011 Fiesta Bowl. "It's a group that needs to come a long way in understanding effort, energy, energy expenditure and strain necessary to win their individual matchups. It's a group that's an average-to-below average communication group. Positive communication, encouraging communication, demonstrative communication. … It's an easily frustrated group when a drill comes off track or they get surprised by something else outside the scope of what they thought. It's a group that has trouble persevering through that adversity and rolling with 'hey, whatever we've got to do, let's do it, here we go. Whatever comes at us let's roll.' That's what we did. It's a group that is starting to understand finishing but has trouble finishing, finishing drills, finishing plays, workouts. So there are a lot of things present that cause losing. It's not just about a collection of players."
Diaco, a disciple of one of college football's best coaches in Brian Kelly, was hired from Notre Dame to fix all of that. Truth be told, it has already begun.
"We have our culture set and it's posted all around the building," Diaco said. "We've tried to shorten those words from a page to four lines to maybe just an acronym so that we can hit them with quick-hitting thoughts and implant that language into their hearts and minds then we have to create activities that enforce that ideology."
This Day 1 spring practice was certainly different. For example, a sound system with big speakers was turned up during drills to open practice. The players and coaches seemed hyped about that. It's something Diaco said he was going to do to get the energy going. The energy was there.
The coaches were very much involved on all drills. Stopping players to get drills right was not uncommon. Encouragement when the players did things right was not at a minimum.
And despite his honest breakdown of team issues, he believes there are enough players and enough talent to be successful. But all the things that need to get fixed, really do need to be fixed and everyone has to buy in.
Diaco was a player at Iowa who has learned under some very well-respected coaches, including Kelly and Al Groh. He's 41 but his resume is filled with years of experience, but he's not using any templates right now.
"It's a finger-touch and feel and every player is a little different and you've got to bring that messaging to the players in different ways," Diaco said.
Brown, McCummings Done
Diaco confirmed that safety Ty-Meer Brown, who had a neck/spine issue last season, has concluded his career as has quarterback wide/receiver Scott McCummings. McCummings sustained a ruptured Achilles tendon last summer. ... The players were not allowed to speak to the media on Monday. "We want to have as much of a one-voice policy as we can and still create nice exposure for guys without being obtuse to their schedule," Diaco said.