Many Names To Consider For UConn Football Head Coaching Job

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STORRS — You want to know the name of the next UConn football coach. We want to know the name of the next UConn football coach. And because we are unable to deliver that name today, you may decide to stop reading right about … here.

Like a second helping of stuffing or a third slab of pumpkin pie, hey, that is your Thanksgiving prerogative.

The need to jet into the school's twin basketball successes and jet away from the stink bomb of a 2013 football season is to a large degree understandable. Yet while many UConn fans are jetting, the forgotten football team must continue to slog through the mud to the finish line and the UConn athletic hierarchy must continue to sift through a coaching search that undoubtedly will take twists and turns in the days ahead.

So while it is neither sexy nor cutting edge to argue for a little patience and some real attention to the last two games, both at home, one against a departing old football rival in Rutgers, another against a burgeoning basketball rival in Memphis, that's what I'm doing.

Folks, there is no ONE coaching name yet. I feel confident in writing that.

While arguing about potential candidates may serve as entertainment during a season of despair, there are two things UConn must get right: 1. The successful navigation to land the best coach available. 2. Get a program back in touch with what it feels like not to lose every freaking week. The coaching process is vital. I also think a 3-9 finish instead of 0-12 has some lasting value.

"We plan on finishing 3-9," interim coach T.J. Weist said. "That would give us great momentum for everything we do."

Snooping around Wednesday brought virtually the same results that our Desmond Conner reported on Tuesday. There haven't been any coaching interviews yet, athletic director Warde Manuel evidently is being true to his word when he fired Paul Pasqualoni after four games that he wasn't going to disrupt other schools' seasons, because he'd hate for it to happen to him.

The rest? Well, let's call it informed speculation. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Ball State coach Pete Lembo, Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson and Towson coach Rob Ambrose (who had his team thoroughly better prepared than Pasqualoni in the season opener) are said to be on a targeted list of 10 to 12 candidates. Although he's a long shot, Weist would be included, too. Clearly, we don't have all the targeted names yet.

In a long conversation over coffee in August, Manuel, in discussing his general philosophy, expressed a hiring preference for a coordinator at a top school, a head coach at, say, a MAC or Conference USA school or maybe a hot I-AA head coach. Narduzzi, Lembo, Clawson and Ambrose, the former UConn offensive coordinator, fit that mold. I also left Starbucks in West Hartford with the distinct impression Manuel is less interested in name recognition or high-profile failures than what a coach can build at UConn today. As his patience in hiring basketball coach Kevin Ollie and hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh demonstrated, he's not a glory hound sniffing only for the glittery name.

Through outside reports, speculation, agents pushing their clients, etc., many names have been batted around. Lane Kiffin, Houston Nutt, Don Brown, Noel Mazzone, Ron Prince, Karl Dorell, Turner Gill, Jeff Tedford. All, we hear, are definitely no-go. I have my doubts, but don't know about Greg Schiano and Eric Mangini.

You've got to remember targeted names can disappear in a poof. Look, Narduzzi sounds good, really good. I love the idea of a defensive guru at the base of UConn success. I like the guy being born in New Haven, a coach's son. I love the Big Ten pedigree. I like the way he has East Coast recruiting among his responsibilities. None of us knows how he'd be as a head coach. And if, say, Illinois or Indiana were to make a change, Narduzzi and the two MAC coaches could easily be in the mix at those schools, too. Narduzzi could be chased by any number of schools. That's one reason I'm staying off promoting one name right now; we may only know 40 percent of the targeted names, don't know who exactly will interview or get other offers from other schools. There were 31 changes made during and after the 2012 season. While there figures to be fewer this time the unknown is a great mitigator here.

The bar obviously wasn't set high, but I do believe this search is establishing itself with a wider and stronger base than after Randy Edsall left UConn in a lurch after the Fiesta Bowl.

A guy like Dan Mullen from Mississippi State is a wild card, one who could change the dynamic in a heartbeat. His name has been floated out there as a possibility for UConn, although a report Tuesday in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger made it sound doubtful he'll be fired. Mullen is 6-11 in his past 17 games, yet as the Clarion-Ledger pointed out 10 of the 11 losses were to teams ranked among the top 21. The other was this year on the road to unranked Auburn, now No. 4 in the BCS poll. 'Bama, Auburn, A&M, the SEC West isn't exactly The American, folks, and a strong argument can be made Mullen has done more with less than others.

This could be a quick process after the finale against Memphis on Dec. 7, maybe a week, or it could go on for two, three more weeks heading through December. Weist is the long shot in all this, maybe the long, long, long shot. Yet say this much. Down 21-0 at halftime, night game, mostly empty stadium, freezing, on the road, if there was a time for an 0-9 team to pack it up, it was last weekend in Temple. The Huskies didn't. They won, 28-21. Bully for them.

In the midst of a cesspool season, Temple is a tiny jewel.

"Finally," Weist said, "we learned how to win."

Weist took us inside the locker room at halftime at Lincoln Financial Field. This is what he told his Huskies: "There is a time when you have to make a decision in your life that you've got to forget about everything that has happened and just give unbelievable effort and unbelievable focus. It's time."

He told them they had to change or the same result would happen over and over. He pointed to all the comebacks that happen every week in college and the NFL.

"There wasn't much left for us to do but to go and win the game," Weist said. "The only thing at stake at that moment was our pride."

Yet in the larger picture, Weist insists there is much more at stake.

"Winning validates everything you do," he said. "It builds momentum for the next game. Builds momentum for the offseason. Builds momentum in our schemes and for our players. Builds momentum for recruiting. Builds momentum going into next season. Everything goes together.

"Win games, win the right way, win in the classroom. Everything we talk about is about having a winning mentality. You can never accept losing, never accept a losing mentality. Look, we were 0-9 and we expected to win."

So he expects to beat Big Ten-bound Rutgers Saturday and he expects to beat Memphis. Both are suddenly and eminently possible. Weist has kept the team together under the worst possible circumstances and it is entirely laudable. A new coach may well want his own offensive coordinator and Weist could soon be left looking for another job. Yet what he has done since Oct. 1 should not go unappreciated and what two more wins could do to put some pride and momentum back in program should not be dismissed.

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