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Welcome back, Randy; you were gone too long

East Hartford — This was a day for all of us who have done dumb things in our lives to glean some inspiration. If there’s enough patience, time, love and faith, what’s meant to be … is meant to be. And will happen.

Who knew you could learn all that from a football news conference?

After three years of watching a phony, bankrupt UConn football coach, how refreshing, indeed, came Randy Edsall’s earnestness Friday morning. His tears. His apology. His elation at proving Thomas Wolfe wrong.

You can go home again.

Randy Edsall just did.

And if his news conference Friday at Rentschler Field provides any foreshadowing for his future success rate here, UConn football is back already.

Quite a day. It wasn’t a press conference. It was an allegory tied to a celebration while tethered to all the great storylines: faith, forgiveness, hope and wonder. Edsall hit the notes like Sinatra. The anti-Diaco is the new sheriff in town.

Edsall, the UConn coach from the 1999-2010 seasons, offended much of Connecticut at his mode of departure after the Fiesta Bowl in 2011, his last game. He slipped out the back door and landed at Maryland, following a tipping point at UConn that really wasn’t a tipping point at all. It happened like tooth decay, a little at a time. There was no event that violated the demilitarized zone, no excessive straw that waylaid the camel.

But then there was Friday. Olive branches all around. Time and space, the greatest healers of all.

“Six years ago, I made one of the worst decisions in terms of how I left,” Edsall told a packed house on the third floor of the stadium, hundreds of fans in attendance that gave him repeated ovations.

“It’s something I have to live with. I’m not perfect,” Edsall said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I regret it. It’s weighed on my mind heavily. I just hope to earn the trust back from all you wonderful fans. I apologize for how I left. It was wrong.”

Earning back trust, much like turning around a program, requires time and diligence. But anyone who saw Edsall’s emotions — his voice teetered talking about the statue of late UConn football player and Edsall recruit Jasper Howard — said it all. If there’s enough love, the trust will follow. And Randy Edsall loves Connecticut.

“Randy can’t do this alone,” athletic director David Benedict said. “We all have to work together to rebuild this program. UConn Nation has to set the past aside and start pulling the rope in the same direction.”

Indeed. If Edsall is the anti-Diaco, Benedict is the anti-Hathaway. As in Jeff Hathaway, under whose watch Edsall left in 2011. Benedict’s theme Friday: Together. Us. We. A change from 2011, when Edsall perceived a baffling lack of support from his boss.

There were several examples, not the least of which was Edsall's aggravation at having to spar with the admissions department by himself.

Essentially, Edsall said admissions standards were becoming more stringent and that even players who had earned their degrees in previous seasons probably wouldn't have been admitted by the 2010-11 season. Edsall didn’t believe other schools in the Big East were as discerning.

Edsall was left alone in his fight. He believed that his program’s repeated citations for academic excellence from the American Football Coaches' Association and its exemplary graduation rate should have earned him more support from his boss and more trust from admissions. He was 0-for-2.

Now? Doesn’t feel that way anymore.

“If you don’t have support from your president, trustees and athletic director on down, it’s hard to win,” Edsall said. “It’s hard to win as it is.”

Not long after, Edsall said, “The bottom line is recruiting the right type of student-athlete.”

Translation: Especially the ones who can play.

Edsall has proven a master at finding the right kids — he has a battalion still in the NFL from UConn — and providing them the core values necessary to succeed. Now UConn needs to support him in every way possible. The program is in shambles.

There was significant chatter Friday about timelines and other minutiae about Edsall’s hire. Irrelevant. What matters: He’s here. He said all the right things Friday in content and tone. There was passion, faith, forgiveness. All those things that improve with time.

Welcome home, coach.

You were gone too long.

And are back right on time.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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