Published September 15. 2013 4:00AM
East Hartford - Randy Edsall's old golfing buddies from Connecticut waited for him near the tunnel at Rentschler Field late Saturday night for a brief handshake and a few congratulatory words following Maryland 32, UConn 21.
Their guy came home again and reminded us what a good coach looks like. Smiles, smiles everywhere for Edsall's old friends and his new team in the stadium where Edsall's happy memories belied some of the catcalls he heard most of Saturday night.
Seems some of the scholars, less wiser filled with Budweiser, have perhaps forgotten the words, "Fiesta Bowl." Moments after Edsall told his old pals to "hit 'em straight tomorrow morning," one dim bulb, a leftover in the barren bleachers, managed to hang around long enough to call him a "traitor."
Doubtful that Edsall cared much. He has a 3-0 team now. He is doing in Maryland what he did here: build a program. And to think Edsall was the one getting booed. He should have been doing the booing, what with the UConn program bearing little resemblance now to the one he left.
"This is a very special place for me and my family," Edsall said after the game. "I appreciate everything that everyone did for me and for our family and for the program here. When you take a look at what myself and many others were able to accomplish here, it was really something special.
"I'll never lose the memories I had here," he said. "Being able to talk to some of those guys that I recruited and coached afterwards … that's what makes this game so special. Not all the stuff you guys (the media) want to write about. I appreciate them coming up and talking to me. I guess now that I can be the first person to win a game at Rentschler Field as (the UConn) coach and as the visiting coach. I have a record there, too."
This night should have pretty well annihilated the sentiment that Edsall made a "lateral" move when he went to Maryland. The Terps are in the ACC and headed to the Big Ten, far more stable real estate than the immortal American Athletic Conference.
But it's more than that. Edsall is rolling now in his new digs because of the kid named Diggs. Maybe there are better receivers in the country than Stefon Diggs, the Maryland sophomore. Just not many. And Diggs may have been the entire point of the evening.
He was the best player on the field. Five catches, 110 yards. Sixth nationally in all-purpose yards. Named ACC Receiver of the Week last week. The kid who determined how UConn had to defend Maryland every snap he was out there.
Diggs grew up in Gaithersburg, Md., maybe 20 miles from the Maryland campus. Stefon Diggs is exactly the kind of player Edsall could rarely recruit in Connecticut. Not to say Connecticut doesn't produce 1-A players. Just rarely with the speed and game-changing ability of this one.
Edsall was asked if he was "less likely" to recruit a kid like Diggs up here than in Maryland. He grinned.
"I never tried to recruit him when I was at Connecticut," Edsall said. "I really wouldn't be able to answer that."
His facial expression told you a different story.
Last year, Edsall told The Day's Chuck Banning, "When I was at Connecticut, we had a lot of players from this area who came up, contributed and really did a great job for us. Now, I say this with no disrespect to the state of Connecticut, but there's just not a lot of Division I football players in that state. Down here, there are some high schools where there's as many Division I players as there are in the entire state of Connecticut.
"When you can be in an area where you have all those potential players available to you, if you can keep the guys that are local at home, you've got a pretty good chance for success."
The Ghost Of UConn Past left his old house with a victory and an unbeaten record. He spoke of his happy memories here. Randy Edsall is a happy guy. Happier than anybody around here. Hate him if you want. But the Fiesta Bowl sure felt a whole lot better than this.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.