CROMWELL — UConn coach Bob Diaco was guest speaker at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday and for those who have never heard the coach speak, they were in for a treat.
If a motivational phrase was something you sought, or even if you didn't, you probably left the Crowne Plaza Hotel with one, anyway. .
Many in the crowd approached Diaco after the event, asking him to come to speak at their business.
"If you heard me talk before I think it just escalates as I start to talk about football and passion and the things that I love," he said after being introduced. "How could you not? You just can't help but get excited so if I energize a few people to go to their cars and get their helmets, please follow me back to Storrs because I could use your help, especially, [athletic director Warde Manuel, seated to his left].
"You guys are laughing, I'm serious.
"It's part of what makes me tick. If you could use some of this to help yourself, fine, but my mission started a long time ago when I was kid. [Football] was an outlet. It was something that I felt good about that began to create a positive image for me."
Diaco waxed poetic on topics like fear and anxiety. He talked about how paralyzing both were to anyone, not just football players. He talked about embracing your mortality.
"Think about if today is going to be your last day," he said. "What would it look like? Would you intend to do what you planned to do the rest of the day? You might, but would your interactions with the people during that time be the same as they would if you weren't going to be here tomorrow, or would the breakfast you just ate taste different? Would you embrace each bite? Would you share differently with your relationships than you have today; if you really focused and spent some time thinking about if this was your last moment, would it create a bolder action? Would you act bolder?"
Diaco took questions, and one brought into focus his views on a controversy that stemmed from former running backs coach Ernest Jones, who was quoted in a Courant story saying that players were going to understand that "Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle."
Jones has since resigned.
"I think that what happens is, you have two separate things happening," Diaco said. "You have Bob Diaco, who is a representative of one of the finest universities in the world. And the University of Connecticut has and is blessed to have people from all over the world with different races, different socioeconomic backgrounds and different religious disciplines. That's what makes the universities of this country so spectacular, that everybody is allowed to chase their interests, change their interests, reshape their minds.
"Then, you have this other side that is Bob Diaco. Bob Diaco, the person, is a Christian. And I read the Bible because I believe in the Bible. I also feel like the Bible is one of the most spectacular leadership documents from the Old Testament to the New Testament."
Diaco received applause for his response to the question.
"That's Bob Diaco. Is it our playbook? It is not. It is not our playbook. We have playbooks. We have offensive playbooks, we have defensive playbooks, we have special teams playbooks."
Diaco said the depth chart likely will be released Thursday at media day. He said 6-foot-8, 300-pound right tackle Andreas Knappe, who has a leg injury, isn't likely to play in the opener against BYU at Rentschler Field on Aug. 29 (ESPN, 7 p.m.).
The folks in attendance wanted to know about the football team. Are things looking up after the Huskies failed to qualify for a postseason bowl for three seasons, including a 3-9 record last year? How do winning ways return to Storrs?
"We have to create victories so we've had benchmarks throughout the year in winter conditioning, spring football, summer conditioning and fall camp where there's an evaluation and a successful moment and it's celebrated," Diaco said, responding to a question from the crowd. "It's celebrated. So we didn't just end camp, we broke camp. They won that moment. Then we celebrated. We did an engagement, fun event with the team. There's been 100 different moments like that; where we've tried to reset the energy and belief system."
Two women approached Diaco after the event and praised him for the tone and motivational speaking.
Shaking their hands, Diaco leaned between them, looked in their eyes and said, "If I said any one thing to improve even the first half of [the two women's] day, then it was worth my ride."