Kevin Ollie succeeded in pulling off an improbable run to a national championship last night for UConn basketball, but on the gridiron Bob Diaco has a much steeper climb just to get the Huskies back to respectability.
Diaco, who took over the program in December after spending the last four seasons as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, is tasked with the challenge of getting a team that floundered to a 13-23 record after longtime coach Randy Edsall left for Maryland. UConn football is still in its relative infancy, only being revived at the Division I level in 2000.
But Edsall showed winning in Storrs isn’t impossible — from 2007-2010, UConn won 33 games and made an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl — though it certainly is difficult. Connecticut and the Northeast aren’t fertile recruiting grounds, and that shows in UConn’s recruiting class rankings in the Rivals era:
2002: No. 104
Average ranking: 85.77
In 2014, the state of Connecticut produced just two three-star recruits (who didn’t sign with UConn). Massachusetts offers some more fertile recruiting territory, though Diaco will have to pry the state’s top players away from Boston College (which signed six of Massachusetts’ top 10 players in 2014).
But Diaco does have good recruiting connections in the Northeast and is a native of the talent-rich state of New Jersey. While at Notre Dame, Diaco signed a number of highly-recruited players from the area he’ll have to hit hard at UConn:
New Jersey: ATH Rashad Kinlaw (3 stars), S Elijah Shumate (4 stars), WR Bennett Jackson (3 stars)
New York: DL Jarron Jones (4 stars), DE Ishaq Williams (5 stars)
Massachusetts: OL John Montelus (4 stars)
Not all these guys panned out — Kinlaw, for one, was just kicked off Notre Dame’s football team last week — but Jackson was a two-year starter and senior captain as a cornerback, while Jones and Williams are likely starters on this year’s Irish squad.
Notre Dame, of course, is an easier sell to recruits that UConn. But plenty of Irish players loved playing for Diaco, raving about his energy on the practice field and enthusiasm for player development.
It’ll take a few years to find out if Chef Diaco’s cake at UConn tastes good (seriously, he loves that cake analogy). But if he can start pulling talent from the areas he did while at Notre Dame, he’ll at least give his proud basketball school some hope on the football field.