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Analyst: Diaco, New Staff Have A Better Handle On Recruiting

By DESMOND CONNER, dconner@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

5:58 PM EST, February 4, 2014

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For the record, new UConn football coach Bob Diaco, like his two predecessors, didn't look to recruiting sites for players.

"With respect to who suits our needs for that particular year we'll create a good working list of who those guys are and try to get them to come to UConn," Diaco said. "[Recruiting sites are] for the people who follow that. There's no knock on it. It's followed like it's its own competitive arena.

"We don't do our business that way. When you do your business that way you make mistakes. We're trying to put the team together and if it creates storylines that are positive that's great. If it doesn't that's fine, too."

UConn will have a "recruiting department" led by defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen, director of player personnel Mike Painter and his assistant, Pat McGrath.

How's that for commitment to recruiting?

UConn has not taken the leap of being a legitimate, annually competitive team on the national stage despite reaching the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season. In fact, the Huskies, who haven't been to a bowl game since and have won only 13 games in three years, have regressed.

Impact players have a way of changing that. UConn opposed a few, including Maryland's Stefan Diggs, a dynamic receiver, and a few quarterbacks the past two seasons.

Diaco and his staff are confident they have what is shaping up to be a fine — and big — class.

CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming puts out a Top 100 list and gives those players stars because "everybody else" does it. He calls Arkeel Newsome, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound Parade All-America running back from Ansonia, a game-changer and impact player and rates him four-plus stars – out of five.

Lemming also knows how UConn's previous coaches, Paul Pasqualoni and Randy Edsall, did on the recruiting trail.

So that, combined with what he has learned from accomplished coaches in the SEC and Big Ten, makes Lemming say the focus on recruiting has to change. And Lemming said the enthusiastic, 40-year-old Diaco and his staff arrived just in time to roll with new ideas.

"The old staff was a bit long in the tooth and they didn't understand recruiting the way these guys do it now," Lemming said. "Recruiting has changed in the last five years mainly because of [Alabama coach] Nick Saban and [Ohio State coach] Urban Meyer. If you don't work 24-7 on recruiting, 12 months out of the year, you're going to be in trouble.

"A week ago Monday I ran into Nick Saban in Jacksonville and then went to six other schools over the next couple days. He was either right before me or right after me. Now that shows you the work ethic — because he was looking at all juniors already. Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Mack Brown, they all told me, you win with the impact players and lose with just the good players. You've got to recruit impact players or you'll be out of a job in 2-3 years."

He said Edsall was good at coaching players up but "he never got UConn over the hump. They were never an elite team which they could be. And he's doing the same thing at Maryland. It's just kind of, all right. With that said, Diaco has recruited some pretty good athletes in this class. You can't deny that and I liked the fact they were going after some of the bigger-name kids. That's exactly what you have to do.

"Connecticut [as a state] has some talent but not a whole lot. Diaco is from New Jersey and he has a lot of ties there and that could help because New Jersey is loaded with talent. You can see that by looking at the class now. I'll bet you see it more next year."

Sam Sirianni, the longtime coach at Fort Myers (Fla.) High, can speak to an impact Diaco will make.

He told a story involving Daniel Oak, his 6-3, 280-pound guard/center who committed to the Huskies on Sunday.

Diaco visited the school last month and met Oak but Oak, Sirianni said, had to double back on his coach and ask: "That was the head coach, right?" Sirianni recalled Oak asking. "Most guys come in, they're letting you know they're the head coach but I've known Bob since he was 22, 23 years old. The guy is so cool and down to earth. I think recruits are going to like that about him."

Event At Rent Off

Because of the weather forecast UConn cancelled the signing day event at Rentschler Field.

Fans can follow signing day news at UConnHuskies.com or Courant.com. UConn will offer a chance to meet the coaching staff at a meet and greet on March 1 at the UConn Club Auction at the XL Center.