New UConn football coach Bob Diaco has the pedigree, the passion and, make no mistake, he'll have a plan.
"When I walk across the stripe and onto the field, there is only one particular speed and energy," Diaco said at his introductory press conference Thursday. "I bring the full scope of all my talents, energy and passion into that arena. I believe I was brought onto the earth to teach young men how to be men in football."
You got the feeling that Diaco could make a killing at the lemonade stand even at the age of 40.
He has the energy of a 4-year-old and is a pretty good salesman. He'll need all of it because he has a huge task ahead — he must sell his vision to top-notch recruits, sell it to the fan base and sell it to the players who are already here. And he needs to go out and win right away.
The Huskies are 13-23 in the past three seasons. There were only 17,086 at Rentschler Field for the final game of the season. The team has not been to a bowl game since its 2011 Fiesta Bowl appearance.
"I'm just glad for me and my family because we are where we want to be," Diaco said. "We're at UConn. That's exactly the right fit for us. I'm exactly the right fit for this team, and they're exactly the right fit for me. We're going to grow together and create championships here."
The band played the UConn fight song, cheerleaders smiled and Diaco, who was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, was on a roll after a late night. His five-year, $8 million contract was not signed until about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
"I want to thank the band — I love college bands, that is awesome — and I want to thank the cheerleaders, thanks so much for coming. I'm just going to talk, I wrote down a few notes between the hours of 3:30 a.m. and whatever other time I started. I'm embarrassed to say I was in the same clothes for about two and a half days. Hopefully, I don't look too disheveled. My family flew me a jacket and a tie up here."
Diaco and his wife, Julia, have two sons — Angelo and Michael — and a daughter, Josephine.
He might not have had much sleep but his thoughts were clear, saying that UConn has the "resources, facilities, first-class travel, first-class nutrition, first-class training facilities and there's enough of a pool [of money] to have a first-class staff equal to or better than most in the [American Athletic Conference] we compete against."
One of his first jobs will be naming his coaching staff, a process that will start with him talking to current staff members. No current assistant coach was at the press conference.
Diaco also said the process of winning begins now.
"You make winning choices and you have competitive environments in your meetings, you have competitive environments in your winter conditioning, etc.," he said.
The current players got the gist of that and some of the energy he brings when he met with the team.
"He's an intense guy," said junior Geremy Davis, the team's leading receiver with 1,085 yards this season. "First thing he talked about is winning, but we have to win day by day. We can't be looking too far in the future. We have to take it day by day. That's pretty much what he started off talking about."
"He really [made] an impression on all of us, how he's ready to work. First, he wished us safe travels [for holiday break], be smart at home and get back safely."
Diaco was the 2012 Broyles Award winner, presented to the nation's best assistant coach. Notre Dame played for the national title that season. The Irish were No. 1 in points allowed in 2012 (10.3 a game), No. 24 in 2011 (20.7), and No. 45 of 123 schools in 2013 (20.9).
"Connecticut hired the perfect man to lead their football program into the future," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly in a statement. "Bob Diaco possesses every characteristic necessary to be successful. He's a top-notch recruiter, tremendous leader of men and brilliant coach. Bob was arguably the top coordinator in the country as demonstrated by our defense over the last few years."
Bolstering recruiting is the next step for the program. UConn has always had a hard time landing top recruits, the so-called four- and five-star recruits. The Huskies also have to do well in the Northeast and spread their wings.
"I think his ties to the East and his New Jersey roots are a good fit for UConn," said Jeremy Crabtree, a recruiting analyst for ESPN. "You have to be a factor for the talent that's there in the East, or you're not going to win there. However, I also think his ties from previous stops in the Midwest, especially when he was at Notre Dame and Cincinnati, will help the Huskies in the Midwest. They certainly can be competitive with some of the lower-level Big Ten and top-level MAC programs for the talent in that part of the world."
Diaco said he wasn't so sure those types of top-flight players weren't already in the program.
"I don't want to minimize the talent on the team right now," Diaco said. "There's talent on this team right now. Everybody on this team has got value. Everybody on the team is going to be successful at something. We've just got to find what it is."
Some continuity on the staff, for now, could be of help on the recruiting front. Diaco said he intends to meet with the current assistants to see if they are a good fit for the program. Manuel said that some assistants already have said they intend to move on. T.J. Weist, who served as interim coach the last eight games after Paul Pasqualoni was fired after an 0-4 start, is not one of those assistants.
Diaco is confident that he can get it done at UConn and, obviously, the people who hired him are, too.
"If you are a Latin major, please don't critique me; if you're not, please just shake your head," Diaco said before breaking it down in English. "St. Augustine — with love and diligence, anything is possible. We're going to have drilled-down focus and we're going to be on a mission, and we're going to understand the things that we treasure and our blessings. We're going to consistently apply the appropriate pressure every single day and that's how we become champions — again."