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Edsall isn't the bad guy, just so you know

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published September 15. 2013 4:00AM

East Hartford

Sports fans are fond of rationalizing their behavior at sporting events with the familiar rant, "I pay my money, I can do what I want."

True enough in most cases. Free country. But let me just suggest this much:

If you went to Rentschler Field with the intent to boo Randy Edsall on Saturday, you are a nincompoop. Dope. Dolt. Your antennae are no longer picking up all the channels.

You might ask yourself: Think you might be missing the big picture a tad, preferring to obsess about his decision to slip out the back door and fade into the night rather than process the scope of his accomplishments? People here act like Edsall popped a few wheelies on the front lawn, shot out the windows and kicked the gardener in the groin on the way out.

Everything good about UConn football lies at the feet of two people: Lew Perkins and Randy Edsall. Period. Perkins, the former athletic director, understood college football's burgeoning influence on athletic department coffers in the late '90s and had the foresight to hire a young coach who learned from the great Tom Coughlin.

Edsall's hiring might have merited a "who?" from the intelligentsia. Not to Perkins, whose brilliance at his job here becomes clearer every day.

Suddenly, a program that played football for 100 years in witness protection was winning games at Iowa State. Then bowl games. Then Notre Dame, South Carolina and into the BCS.

This could have been a horse-and-buggy trip for UConn, a s-l-o-w path to relevance. Edsall put them in a Corvette. Put it this way: UConn play-by-play voice Joe D'Ambrosio opened his broadcast Nov. 20, 2009 at Notre Dame marveling at how 10 years prior, Nov. 20, 1999, UConn football was playing UMass. He ended the broadcast it by calling Andre Dixon's touchdown into the end zone closest to Field Goal Jesus.

No, really. How many other programs in the history of college football can tell that kind of story?

And so now some people want to boo Edsall here because of the way he left town?

Really?

Full disclosure: I don't like the way he left either. He's told friends that upon reflection, he'd have done things differently. A football mulligan. But can we stop being such bumpkins around here and see the big picture for once?

Randy Edsall took a program from nothing. Nothing. The irrelevance of 1-AA and little Memorial Stadium and took it to the Fiesta Bowl. Faster than anyone could have possibly hoped. That's the story, folks. Not how he left.

And you might want to examine why he left. The narrative is that Edsall realized he took UConn football as far as it could go. Hard to argue that. But he might have stayed if Perkins' successor understood the breadth of Edsall's accomplishments and acted accordingly.

I understand Edsall got a lot here. He was paid well. The Burton/Shenkman building became reality, much to the chagrin of the basketball folks. But Edsall understood that UConn and its small, off-campus stadium still had perception problems. Perpetual improvements are necessities.

So if I'm the athletic director at UConn, I'm on the phone with Edsall's agent the second Dave Teggart's field goal cut through the Tampa night. Yet in the month between Tampa and Glendale, former athletic director Jeff Hathaway made no attempt to reach and out talk about what would be necessary to keep Edsall here.

Not a surprise, given Hathaway's methods. Hathaway never accompanied Edsall to fight admissions, back when Edsall believed academic standards were growing too restrictive and the same recruits were being admitted to UConn's competitors. Hathaway left Edsall alone to approach Robert Burton, the program's top donor, for money to enhance various parts of the program.

Ask yourself: Would you continue to work for somebody like that? In an unstable league? Especially if something else came along?

Then there's this. UConn fans learned the penalties affixed to insufficient academic progress last year when men's basketball missed the NCAA Tournament. Edsall's program, meanwhile, was lauded repeatedly for academic excellence by the American Football Coaches' Association.

Then there's this: Edsall recruited more than 20 players to UConn who have gone to the NFL, Canada, Europe or the Arena League. Pretty cool when the Colts are playing on Sunday Night Football and you hear the player introductions: "Donald Brown UConn."

But let's boo the guy just the same.

You paid your money.

You get to do what you want.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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