Published December 13. 2013 4:00AM Updated December 13. 2013 6:16AM
Storrs - Bob Diaco didn't exactly play hard to get when meeting with UConn athletic director Warde Manuel to discuss the head football job opening.
It took only a short time for Diaco to show his cards.
"I let him know immediately how badly I wanted to be the 30th head coach in UConn history," Diaco said.
The negotiation process flowed from there, as Manuel and Diaco sealed the deal at 1:30 a.m. Thursday at the athletic director's home in South Windsor, agreeing on a five-year, $8 million deal.
Diaco, 40, who spent the last four years as the defensive coordinator and last two as assistant head coach at Notre Dame, was introduced during a press conference Thursday at Burton Family Football Complex.
He won over Manuel during the interview process, talking about academic and athletic excellence. He also scored major points during Thursday's press conference with his passion, energy, enthusiasm and charisma.
He'll need all of those traits and more to build a consistent winner at UConn, which has suffered through three straight losing seasons (13-23 overall) since appearing in the Fiesta Bowl in January, 2011. He believes UConn has the facilities and resources to be successful.
This is not a rebuilding job, he added.
"We are where we want to be," Diaco said, referring to his family. "We are at UConn and that's exactly the right fit for us and I'm exactly the right fit for this team and they're exactly the right fit for me. And we're going to grow together and create championships here."
Manuel started his coaching search by checking out the winners of the Frank Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coach in college football. Diaco topped the prestigious list in 2012, leading a Fighting Irish defense that ranked second in scoring defense (12.77 points) in the nation. Notre Dame posted a 12-1 record and played in the national championship game.
"You can see his passion, his drive and energy," said Manuel, who called Diaco his top choice. "Those are things that I was looking for. ... He was a Broyles award winner last year, the top defense and they played in the national championship (game). His defenses have ranked in different categories through his years - top in conferences or top nationally.
"The guy can coach. ... This is not just a guy that's going to be rah-rah. This is a guy who knows X's and O's and can put a scheme together to win. I love that about him."
It is the first college head coaching job for Diaco, who's spent the majority of his career on the defensive side of the ball, with his last three stops at Virginia, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. He wants an offense that will dominate the line of scrimmage, run with authority and use a downfield passing attack.
"Football is all I've ever known," Diaco said. "It is the engine that drives me. It is my passion. It is my life's mission. It is my life's work."
Diaco almost went in an entirely different direction after graduating from the University of Iowa. A two-time All-Big Ten linebacker, he had hoped to play in the NFL but said he was considered "too small, too slow, too weak."
Iowa coach Hayden Fry offered him a graduate assistant position. Diaco considered other options before taking job.
"I just had such a passion for the game and knowledge and learning it and teaching it and communicating it that it was a natural fit," Diaco said. "I will say I actually talked to my wife, Julie, about going to France and studying at Cordon Bleu and learning to become a chef, but my Dad talked me out of it because he said it would be too much work."
Diaco has all the ingredients to be a successful head coach. Now the question is whether he can lift a sagging UConn program that won its last three games to finish at 3-9 under interim coach T.J. Weist, who replaced fired coach Paul Pasqualoni.
A native of Cedar Ridge, N.J., Diaco has strong Northeast recruiting ties. He has yet to decide on his coaching staff and whether Weist will stay. He met with the players before Thursday's press conference.
After catching up on his sleep after an exhausting few days, Diaco will start laying a winning foundation.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly believes Diaco is a terrific fit for UConn.
"Connecticut hired the perfect man to lead their football program," Kelly said. "Bob Diaco possesses every characteristic necessary to be successful. He's a top-notch recruiter, tremendous leader of young men and brilliant coach. Bob was arguably the top coordinator in the country as demonstrated by our defense over the last few years."