STORRS — T.J. Weist did a fairly expansive job Tuesday explaining why he is casting UConn's football fortunes with Tim Boyle. The interim head coach did an even more honest job in explaining that he is not a fortune teller, interim or otherwise.
All it took was a question about how long a leash there is on a quarterback only months out of Xavier High in Middletown.
"There is no leash," Weist said. "There is no length to it. It's hard to quantify this long or that long. How do you say it's X amount of this or that? I don't know if there's a coach who can answer that question. We'll see how things go. I don't have the answer. Yes, we have to have patience. Yes, we have to allow him to learn. We all have to see how well he'll handle this offense, make decisions and make plays — you and me together."
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In his first assembled weekly meeting with the media, Weist joked that he'd have to start studying video of Patriots coach Bill Belichick's press conferences. For the love of God, T.J., please, nooooo! We'll see how this goes long-term, but Weist only needed 32 minutes to demonstrate that he can be less paranoid than Randy Edsall and more vibrant and thorough in his message than Paul Pasqualoni.
If you could wade through all my emails and Twitter messages this past month demanding Pasqualoni's firing, you'd find a number insisting that Boyle should replace Chandler Whitmer. You'd also find a number insisting that Boyle's redshirt should not be burned during a lost year.
After an 0-4 start that cost Pasqualoni his job, do I believe it's time to try another quarterback? Absolutely, 100 percent. Do I believe it's worth the risk, even if it means Boyle might not be ready? That's where I'm 70-30.
On Tuesday, Boyle was talking about storming Rentschler Field with his dad after UConn beat South Florida in 2007 and how cool it is to get his first college start against USF. Boyle could be a great story. He could be the next Dan Orlovsky, and for Connecticut football that only means everything. Hey, I'm dying to nickname him O2, the molecular oxygen that breathed new life into State U football. Could he be the state kid who de-commits from Boston College and Steve Addazio and steps into the UConn lineup midway through his freshman season and starts 44 straight season games and a bunch of bowl games?
But what if an offensive line that has allowed Whitmer to be sacked a horrifying 20 times doesn't respond? What if Boyle, who just turned 19, isn't ready to handle it all and Whitmer has to be reinserted? The reality is that there could be plenty of regrets when 2017 rolls around and Boyle has no more eligibility left. There are no guarantees.
Weist says that he has thought long and hard about what's best No. 1 for the team and No. 2 for Boyle. After a bye week of consideration, I'll agree, yes, it's worth the risk, but not for a minute am I going to pretend it's a no-brainer. Weist, whose mandate is to win now if he has any intentions of being head coach in 2014, has more riding on this decision than anybody and he isn't pretending that he can read the future. So why should anybody else?
"Tim is ready," Weist said, and listed three reasons. "One is maturity. You have to be mature to handle situations on and off the field. As a quarterback, it's twice as much. You've got handle the pressure, the media, expectations of leading the offense."
"Two, he shows a presence on the field in practice and scrimmage situations. He has a command of the offense, not just from an intelligence standpoint, but a mentality and decision-making standpoint. That's probably the biggest thing for us. Third is his intelligence. It's not a simple game plan and we can't lighten the load so much because we've got to win a game."
In a fascinating admission during his adios teleconference, Pasqualoni said that he had intended to replace Whitmer with Boyle against USF. It was Pasqualoni's call, Weist said, but as offensive coordinator he was an active part of that decision.
"That was the direction before everything happened last week," Weist said. "I continued it on."
Boyle, for his part, minces no words.
"I want to play football. I'm a football player," Boyle said. "I didn't come to UConn to redshirt my freshman year. I came here to play. I'm happy where I am right now. I'm not really worried about the fifth year."
Boyle, who led Xavier to three state titles, has not talked to Orlovsky, but Boyle's dad showed him a story over the weekend in the Connecticut Post. In it, Orlovsky, now with the Tampa Bay Bucs, said he had been excited about the chance to play as a freshman but had no idea how much responsibility it was. His word of advice to Boyle? Don't try to be the savior. Orlovsky, who led Shelton to a state title, started six games toward the end of his freshman year. Yet eight games into his sophomore season, UConn and Orlovsky still were losing like crazy. Then it suddenly and dramatically turned around in the right direction. That's the dream, baby: Another Orlovsky. Yep, O2.
Weist gets high marks early for honesty. He said he'd like to believe that those Xavier state championships will help Boyle at the college level. He said that it helps his ego. It helps the coach's confidence. "But," Weist said, "it doesn't prove anything on the field. He's still untested."
He admitted that with three freshman quarterbacks, he didn't automatically see Boyle as a starter by Game 5. He needed to watch their progression carefully. From there, it was evaluating Whitmer's game performance.
"We made the decision [to go to Boyle] at the right time, we felt," Weist said. "I'm not going to look back and say we wish we had done it another way."
He will keep the pressure on Boyle this week at practice to feel the speed, feel the heat of the first defense. He wants Boyle thinking fast, going through his progressions on the move. Quarterbacks coach Shane Day has been moved up to the press box to help be Weist's eyes. Weist will continue to call plays from the sideline. When Boyle comes off the field, the first guy he'll see is Weist, more as offensive coordinator than head coach. After he makes his comments, Weist will have him talk to Day on the phone. Whitmer, as the backup, remains part of the sideline communications. Both Weist and Boyle had high praise for Whitmer.
"As a mentor, nothing but supportive," Boyle said. "He has been a great role model for me."
Weist is right. Boyle is mature for his age. He talks earnestly about wanting to gain the respect of his upperclassmen teammates. "They want me to be in control," he said. "That's my challenge. … I'm also not going to get too big for my britches." He talks earnestly about gaining the trust of his coaches, improving tempo and how they want him to play like a senior and not a freshman. He talks explicitly about keeping a mental clock ticking to know when to get rid of the ball. He says sage things, like, "Any quarterback who isn't confident in himself is doing himself an injustice."
You can forget how young these guys are.
He said he remembers hearing Orlovsky's name when he was young, but doesn't consciously recall following him. He talked about growing up and watching D.J. Hernandez of Bristol playing quarterback — that was yesterday, wasn't it? — and thinking how cool it would be to go to UConn. But then he adds, "Now that I'm here and actually starting quarterback, it's not as exciting as I thought it would be." He talks about the respect he has for Pasqualoni, but says, "It was a little dull when coach P was here, very long days." He raves about Weist's energy and how likable he is: "I don't think there's too much to hate about him." And when asked about being too jacked up to sleep Friday night, he says NyQuil should help.
"I'm excited. I'm a 19-year-old kid starting for the UConn Huskies," Boyle exclaimed at one point.
That he is.
And it's pretty easy to root for O2.