Connecticut is not a hotbed for BCS-level talent, and it might sound like a broken record, but UConn still needs to do a better job of keeping that level of player in state.
When Diaco was hired in December, he said by the end of the spring he wanted his staff in the face of every coach or at least the athletic director of every high school in the state. The staff has been mighty busy.
"We want to spread the word of UConn football," Diaco said. "We want to be partners with the state high school coaches, and we want them to feel a partnership with us."
That takes work and time.
"The collective responses we got from all the coaches was off the charts," Diaco said. "There is always, like in anything, a few people that aren't quite in yet for whatever reason, history, bad history, a history from 15 years ago or 10 years ago or something. I need to work on it with care, diligence and consistency and honest communication. There are a few of those instances that virtually have nothing to do with us, just harbored negative feelings I need to chip away at. But overall, collectively, it's been an awesome, very warm response."
Whether it's Duane Maranda at New London, Steve Filippone at Hand, Jemal Davis at Norwich Free Academy or Bill Mella at Avon Old Farms, those coaches said the UConn staff has made its presence known. The Huskies are recruiting players at those schools.
Maranda said defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin Wolthausen, linebackers coach Vincent Brown and defensive coordinator/safeties coach Anthony Poindexter have been to see him.
"They've been in quite a bit," said Maranda, a volunteer on the UConn staff from 2003 through 2005.
Davis has had a similar experience. Last year NFA tailback Marcus Outlow committed to Boston College.
"The new staff is in constant contact, but the previous staff wasn't present enough with [Outlow]," Davis said. "And one of the concerns was, being only 35 minutes away, they could have been down here talking to him. There was a change at BC, and as soon as that [coaching] change happened, [BC] were down here recruiting immediately."
Outlow had offers from Ohio State, Iowa, Florida and Clemson, as well as UConn, but UConn's came late.
Diaco is not going to land the best of the best in Connecticut every year. It has yet to be done by any UConn coach. And he has faced some hurdles.
For one, the December hiring put Diaco and his staff behind a little bit in recruiting for this season. Diaco also was replacing Paul Pasqualoni, who had state ties. Many state high school coaches signed a letter to former UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway supporting the hiring of Pasqualoni after Randy Edsall left in January 2011 for Maryland.
Pasqualoni is a Cheshire native and a former high school coach in the state who built relationships, especially in Fairfield County, a place where Diaco and staff must work hard. Diaco and staff did not attend the Connecticut Nike Coach of the Year Clinic in February with the state coaches and players, and that had New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli a little miffed. Diaco said the UConn coaches were told the clinic was canceled because of weather concerns.
Marinelli said he's been somewhat disappointed, despite UConn's having been in the school a few times since Diaco was hired.
"And I don't know, maybe I'm a little bit jaded because of Paul and George [DeLeone being let go four games into last season]," Marinelli said. "It still hurts to see how two genuine men who loved Connecticut football got treated."
Diaco and his staff are trying to reach out.
"The practices are open to high school coaches any day, every day," Diaco said. "When the coaches were in the schools, they had the chance to tell them, 'We've got a clinic for you guys in the spring where you can come, full access, full meetings, full practice and full staff access afterward. We have six very inexpensive, a 100 percent service to the players in the state, and we're going to have six clinics at the end of June. The final two weeks in June, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, just six great one-day clinic dates for the players in the state. We're trying to do everything we can."
Filippone said all the relationships between UConn and the state coaches should be good.
"If we're team players, we should all be on the same team here," Filippone said. "Build football in the state of Connecticut with UConn being the flagship. We ought to be eagerly participating and trying to get the best kids to UConn, encouraging them to be there, and I think that's what our job is as high school coaches. We should all be deputized as salespeople for the University of Connecticut football program. When we've got a kid who can play, we've got to start talking to him early on about UConn."