Edsall Vs. Pasqualoni? Bring Your Own Boos To The Rent

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University of Maryland head coach Randy Edsall talks about fond memories of his time in Connecticut. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

STORRS — Tim Willman, whose family lives down the street from his former coach, went to UConn because of Randy Edsall. For a very different reason, so, too, did Ryan Donohue.

Sitting at the same lunch table Tuesday inside the Burton Family Complex, the Huskies' starting defensive end and starting linebacker figured to be as good a place as any to start tackling this week's second-most burning issue.

Will the Rentschler Field fans welcome back Edsall warmly as the founding father of UConn major college football and the coach who took the Huskies to a BCS bowl game? Or will they punish him as the Great Deserter who bolted in the Arizona desert for his, ahem, "dream job" at Maryland?

In other words, when Edsall emerges from that tunnel Saturday night as a touchdown favorite against UConn, will the fans fill those famous rabbit ears of his with cheers or boos?

"There are still obviously some fans who are real bitter and will boo him when he runs out," Willman said, "while some other people are over it."

"He built this program," Donohue said. "I'm curious to see if the crowd lets him back into a stadium he helped build. I definitely think the crowd will play a factor in this game."

So how would you react if you were a fan?

"Maybe boo him when he runs out," Willman said, "and then cheer for the Huskies to win — that's the most important part."

Willman says his parents' house is a quarter of a mile from Edsall's in Fulton, Md. He has bumped into Edsall a couple of times at Harris Teeter, the neighborhood grocery store.

"Just some small talk, 'How you doing?' a minute or two of conversation," Willman said. "I'm not home that much. My parents run into him more than I do."

Edsall walked into the Willman living room a half-dozen years ago — the family then lived in a different house a few miles away — to recruit their 6-foot-4, 267-pound son.

"Coach Edsall is a great guy, very personable, sincere, professional," Willman said. "That's how he was when he recruited me and that's how he was when he coached me."

And when the 25 players [the rest had scattered for the holidays] didn't find out until the plane landed in Connecticut after the 2011 Fiesta Bowl that Edsall had left for Maryland without telling them in Arizona? Especially after he had made Jordan Todman stand up and tell the team that he was leaving for the NFL? How'd you feel then?

"Upset, I'd say," Willman said. "A little bitter. But it's a business. And then the world keeps on spinning. You move on."

Donohue went to Storrs because of Edsall, too, but it wasn't because he was recruited by him. He transferred after his sophomore year in the spring of 2011 after Edsall was hired to replace Ralph Friedgen in College Park.

"[The coaching change] definitely was the biggest factor," Donohue aid. "They fired Coach Friedgen. Coming off a great season, we were in the top 25, everyone was caught off guard."

"Coach Edsall came in. I didn't really get along with his philosophies, I didn't agree with a lot of stuff. I thought the best move was for me to get out of there. The biggest thing was the big difference in the way he practiced versus Coach Friedgen. I wasn't used to it. It kind of shocked me. It was a slap in the face when Friedgen left. I thought it was best to wipe the slate clean."

Edsall can't do that with the UConn fans. It's too late.

That's why I took to my trusty Twitter account Tuesday and asked UConn fans if they planned to cheer or boo Edsall. A sampling:

"I'll loose my voice booing him. He couldn't have left in a slimier or sneakier way."

And.

"Cheer. Show some class."

The most poignant?

"I may boo both coaches."

More on that in a bit.

Predictably, the feelings are mixed. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, a Courant poll showed 31 percent planned to boo Edsall, 27 percent to cheer and 42 percent planned to do neither. As one of my Tweeps wrote, "Can 'meh' be a verb? I'll meh Randy."

"There'll be boos and probably people that will cheer," Edsall said on a conference call after talking about his warm memories of the Rent, where he went 39-12 between 2003 and 2010. "That's the nature of the profession we're in. I'm just thankful the people that supported the program when I was there made me feel at home, got behind our team and allowed us to do the things we did."

"But any time you go on the road, nobody likes you."

And the man who replaced Edsall?

"My sense is it would be probably mixed," Paul Pasqualoni said. "Some people probably really appreciated the years and work Randy put in here. I'm sure there's that population out there. There's other people that are probably still a little upset the way things sorted out at the end. I would say our fans are obviously going to be giving them hopefully as hard a time as we can give them."

Which brings us to this week's most burning issue: We know there will be boos for Edsall before the opening whistle. The real question is how many will there be for Pasqualoni after the final whistle. With the Huskies' unsightly opening loss to Towson, Coacheshotseat.com has Pasqualoni, 10-15 at UConn, on the sixth-hottest seat of 125 coaches nationally. It's tense going on ugly. With an 8-18 record after a 2-0 start this year, Edsall is No. 8.

The arrival of Edsall, in some ways, has taken a back seat to the debate over Pasqualoni's possible departure. If the Huskies lose to Maryland, how many of you have them beating Michigan? And if they're 0-3, there's no way that they finish with a winning record. If they don't have a winning record, you can count on a coach not named Edsall or Pasqualoni in 2014. So, yes, a loss Saturday night could end up sealing Pasqualoni's fate. Huge game.

"The loss to Towson is a wake-up call," said senior captain and defensive end Jesse Joseph. "We all know we're a better team than we were in that game and we just need to prove it to the world, prove it to ourselves and to the coaches."

"There are some guys on the team who feel like, because it's Edsall — players who were recruited by him — we need to come out as hard as we can, more focused, more violent than ever before. That can be a good thing. We can always use that. I could use that. That's something you'll definitely see on the field Saturday."

Steve Greene, the thoughtful senior offensive lineman, said he was and remains an Edsall fan. He said the primary focus has to be on winning, not on the former coach.

"Best of luck to Randy with whatever he does," Greene said. "This is about us."

Yet when it was put to him another way, when asked if channeling some of the emotion about Edsall could help, he answered, "If this is something that motivates you internally, to push harder, to go faster, to play stronger, then absolutely. But you have to be able to channel that. You can't let emotions to take control."

"It doesn't feel good to be booed by your own fans. We have to elevate our performance to have them cheering rather than booing."

Believe this much.

If Saturday night starts with those fans booing Edsall, it'll be a story.

If it ends with those fans booing Pasqualoni, it'll be THE story.

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