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Newport, R.I. - Bob Diaco estimates that he drove nearly 2,200 miles since the beginning of the year promoting the UConn football program and meeting fans.
He's attended chili cook-offs, various clubs and organizations, coffee groups and golf tournaments as well as a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant tour and numerous media appearances.
"It's been very important," said Diaco, UConn's first-year head coach, during American Athletic Conference media day Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency in Newport. "It's been a great time for that. … Every one of them has been wonderful,"
"… I've been energized after every one of them. In many cases, I got back to the team the next day and told them about a moment or conversation that I had with a fan or somebody that cares. They've all been incredibly energizing."
Not that the charismatic Diaco needs any energy boost. He has a seemingly endless surplus of energy, enthusiasm and passion for his team to tap into.
The Huskies desperately need an injection of life coming off the program's third straight losing season, going 3-9 overall in 2013.
There was turmoil from the start. Paul Pasqualoni was fired four games into his third season and T.J. Weist coached the final eight games. UConn hired Diaco, who worked at Notre Dame as an assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, in December. It is his first head coaching job.
"I think with what we've been through, we needed change," redshirt senior Geremy Davis said.
Diaco already has had a major impact on the program.
"He's a fiery guy," Davis said. "He acts like he's our age. He's comes in with a lot passion and excitement. He's bringing it to us and it's coming down to the players as well. You can see us being passionate about what's going on."
Preseason camp begins Saturday morning in Storrs. The Huskies open the regular season on Aug. 29, hosting Brigham Young University.
Diaco has plenty of work to do. The Huskies suffered heavy losses on both sides of the football, not necessarily a bad thing for a struggling program. Three returning quarterbacks - Casey Cochran, a former New London standout, Tim Boyle and Chandler Whitmer - are battling for the starting job. The rebuilt offensive line is a big concern. Depth is an issue at outside linebacker and cornerback.
The AAC preseason football media poll reflected UConn's current state. The Huskies were picked to finish tied for ninth with conference newcomer Tulane. Only Tulsa ranked lower.
"It has no bearing," Diaco said of the preseason ranking. "It will not be brought up. It has no weight or concern to our team for 2014. I'm not going to say we're not going to read it. I'm not going to say they're not going to read it. I'm not going to say that they're not going to talk about it in the locker room. … It doesn't have any lasting effect for where our program is at right now."
Diaco isn't interested in what's happened in the past. His primary focus is on building a winning program and winning culture.
He can't wait for preseason practice to kick off.
"We believe in culture and we believe in character," Diaco said. "And these guys have grown and the increases have been profound in eight months, which all speaks to winning. … I don't have a measuring stick. We're excited to get to some more fundamentals and some systems. But this team has already grown a bunch."
News and notes
The Huskies return only 10 starters - five each on offense and defense. … Redshirt senior Byron Jones, who's listed first on the depth chart at cornerback, is excited about the secondary's potential. "We've got some very athletic and very smart guys on the back end. If we put that together, we can have a really good season together." … Diaco plans to have players vote on team captains. "It's incredibly important," Diaco said. "I believe as a player and being on the staffs that I've been on, that the best moments come from when the team has an opportunity to select their own people. And they normally get it right." … Redshirt junior Max DeLorenzo and redshirt freshman Joshua Marriner will be the backbone of the backfield, according to Diaco.