9:01 PM EDT, October 25, 2012
For 26 minutes and 10 seconds Thursday, I worked over George DeLeone pretty good. Pressed him on why his line hasn't blocked and his team can't run. Asked him straight out if the dual job of UConn offensive coordinator and line coach is too much for him.
Threw enough numbers questions at him that he must have thought I was an IRS agent. Picked at his play-calling enough that Randy Edsall would have gone Rain Man repeating execution and things, execution and things, execution and …
DeLeone remained calm even as he said things like this about the run blocking: "I'm not going to give you a grade, but it's unbelievably disappointing. The No. 1 problem we faced this year." And this about being outscored 53-0 in the second half since the third quarter against Buffalo: "I tell our players all the time we've got to play our best when our best is needed. It's very disheartening."
His offensive line may rattle, but DeLeone, 64, didn't. Finally, I called a zone blitz. They usually work against UConn. "Last year, George, you were 107th of 120 teams in the nation in offense. This year you're 108th. By any measure, that's not good. Or are you seeing something nobody else does?" About 225 words later, we got an OK?
"My only goal when I came here is to do whatever it took to help this team win. OK?" DeLeone said. "I came back to my school. OK? This meant a lot to me to come back here. I left an awfully good job [Dolphins tight ends coach] to come back here, because of my loyalty and my affection for this university. OK?
"That stat doesn't mean nearly as much to me as the wins and losses. OK? You have to win, based on what you have. I think the coaches in this program know exactly what we're dealing with. OK? I didn't come here to build up my resume with stats. I came here to help this team win anyway it could as it is currently constructed and has been, really, for two years.
"Our best chance to win is to play great defense — Don Brown has done a fabulous job — do a tremendous job in the kicking game and have our offense be complementary to that. That's based on the strengths and weaknesses of our team. Wins is the one stat that means everything to me and we haven't done a good enough job offensively to help our team. OK?"
Every indication is Pasqualoni's job is safe for a third year even if UConn finishes 3-9, to give him a chance to work in his own players. Every indication is it would be up to Pasqualoni if he wants to retain DeLeone as the offensive coordinator. And, folks, that is not idle speculation.
"I have given everything mentally, physically and emotionally to this job," DeLeone said. "To say not winning bothers me is a classic understatement. This is my life. OK? It's easy to watch TV and see 500 yards being put up like it's nothing, by West Virginia and teams of that ilk. As a fan you say, 'Geez, that's pretty damn easy. Why don't we do that?' Well, we're doing the things in my mind that give this group the best chance to win."
The alumni and fan base are running red hot. The UConn administration knows it as much as the media. The emails, reader comments and fan sites are harsh. Even evil sports columnists are more popular on the Boneyard than DeLeone these days. He says it doesn't faze him, nor does the fact that I wrote that if things don't change drastically the final four games Pasqualoni should seek alternatives at offensive coordinator.
"I haven't read a newspaper since I've been here," DeLeone said. "I never will. I have been in these situations long enough to know that everyone is going to have an opinion and most of them will not help you get ready for practice that day. Or maybe give you an opinion to slant your ideas of who you are and what you have to do. I will never do that. I get asked a lot of questions. I'm not stupid. From that I know what's being written. It doesn't bother me."
The Huskies are a dismal 116th with 86.88 rushing yards a game. That does bother him.
"The greatest shock I've had this year," DeLeone said. "A tremendous factor in our offensive problems.
"Last year we had the leading rusher in the Big East and a wildcat package I thought was tremendously effective. I felt like we could build on both. We lost two mainstays [Mike Ryan and Moe Petrus]. I didn't anticipate it would affect our offensive line, but it obviously has. Adam Masters [out for the season with an ankle injury at Syracuse] is a huge loss. Not only are we losing a starting right guard, he was our backup at both tackles and left guard. We're losing four players."
After arriving in 2011, DeLeone installed an NFL pro-style offense with zone blocking to replace a spread, no-huddle offense with [coach] Joe Moorhead.
"There was a little bit of a transition, but I thought we adapted pretty well as last season went on," DeLeone said.
So why was there such a need to switch Mike Foley from offensive line to tight ends coach and take on dual responsibility?
"Because I was spending so much time there last year with the offensive line, [Pasqualoni] felt it would be a logical switch," DeLeone said. "We work closely with Mike as we do now. There wouldn't be much change, except the players were getting the information firsthand and I was able to be with the offensive line to get repetitions in my individual practice, too."
He insists dual roles aren't too much for him.
"I'm here every morning at 5 o'clock and I go home at midnight," DeLeone said. "The time factor is not an issue. Never will be. Never has been."
When zone blocking works, it's a thing of beauty. But when you read or react wrong and don't stay true to your zone, the results can be ugly. UConn is also 102nd worst in sacks allowed. Some argue that Chandler Whitmer, if he survives, would be best off with quick drops and slants and short passes to the tight ends.
"I don't think it's as simple as let's shorten the drop, get the ball out of his hands quicker," DeLeone said. "When there's a cover-2 and there's five underneath defenders waiting for you to throw the ball quick, what do you do now? We're going to leave every door open schematically, but most importantly we have to do a better job executing when the pressure is on."
DeLeone says he always enjoys when fans second-guess the offensive coordinator.
"It's really easy to say afterward the call didn't work," DeLeone said. "It's when the play happens that's the hard part. We don't do this by the seat of our pants. We study it 18 hours a day during game week.
"I will say once recipe for disaster is getting behind the chains. Third-and-15, get sacked on first down and it puts our team in tremendous jeopardy with the way we currently are constructed. If we can get to second-and-six and third-and-four, we have a helluva better chance."
Don't shoot me, UConn football fans. I'm not the play-caller. I'm only the messenger.
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