Edsall confident UConn football program heading in right direction

During a recent break in his hectic schedule, Randy Edsall played a round of golf at Fishers Island Club.

He was greeted by 30 mile per hour winds, increasing the degree of difficulty on an already challenging course. Nevertheless, he enjoyed his first experience there.

Sort of like his second stint coaching the UConn football team.

It's a challenging undertaking that Edsall is enjoying.

Experience at his previous coaching stops has taught Edsall how to weather a stormy period in a program's history. He's realistic about where the Huskies stand at this early stage of a massive rebuilding process and understands it takes a considerable amount time to turn it around.

"I'm old enough now and more mature than what I was when I first started out as a head coach," Edsall said at a UConn Coaches Road Show event in Branford on Wednesday. "You just worry about what you can control. I can't change the whole roster overnight. If I could, I would.

"... It eats at you. But I understand what we're going through better than anybody because I've kind of been doing it my whole life, whether it's been as an assistant or head coach. When we were here before, it took us a little bit to get going."

Still, it hasn't been easy for Edsall and his players.

Losing, especially over a long period, never is.

Since returning to Storrs in December 2016, Edsall has led the Huskies to a 4-20 overall record, 2-14 in the American Athletic Conference, in two seasons. They've lost 14 games by 20 points or more.

There were excruciatingly painful to watch last season when the Huskies were simply overmatched and overwhelmed, especially with a young, inexperienced defense that allowed historically bad numbers.

"It sucks," Edsall said of the losing. "Everything that you do, you're in a competitive situation and you want to win. Last year, we weren't in a situation where we had the ability to win at a level we wanted to because of other factors that we didn't have control over. It was tough."

Complicating the process is the program was in far worst shape than he expected when he took over for a second time.

The Huskies suffered through six straight losing seasons under the direction of Paul Pasqualoni and Bob Diaco after Edsall left for Maryland following the pinnacle of the program's success — a Fiesta Bowl appearance in the 2010 season.

"I didn't expect that it would be this much of a process," Edsall said. "The drop-off from where we were when I was here in 2010 to where it was when I came here in 2016 was a lot more than I anticipated or thought it would be.

"... Everybody thought this was easy what we did before. It was a lot of hard work. Then what happened, nobody did what they were supposed to do maintain it or make it grow. And then it went down. Now we've got to go back and do all the heavy lifting again to get back to where we were before. That's what people don't understand."

Still, Edsall sees rays of sunshine peeking through the dark clouds.

His young players are continuing to develop. Newcomers, including transfers running back Art Thompkins, linebacker D.J. Morgan, quarterback Mike Beaudry and wide receiver Ardell Brown, are expected to inject some talent into the team.

The overall competitive spirit has improved. The culture is changing for the better.

"Now things are starting to trend in an upward direction from where we were when we got here because we've been able to change the roster and get guys in that have the ability, the work ethic and the desire to really be good," Edsall said.

"Now what you've got to do, you have to have some patience because you're still developing these kids. And that's where when you see what they do in the weight room, when you see the gains that they've made, when you see the enthusiasm, that allows you to know that you're going where you want to go and not sitting there treading water."

Does that mean the Huskies will take a decent jump in wins this season?

That's unlikely. The renovations are far from complete.

The Huskies have questions on offense and are still too young on defense. Holes need to be filled. Edsall is still hoping to add to the roster before preseason camp opens. Recruiting challenges remain as a program residing outside of the Power Five.

But UConn hopes to be more competitive.

"We're going to be better served this year than what we were a year ago in my opinion heading into the season," Edsall said. "But we still have a ton of work to do. We've added some really good pieces. When you take a look at the guys that we have coming back, we're in a much better position now, but we're still not going to probably be at 80 scholarships. So we're going to be five down. And we only have six seniors.

"Sixty percent or so of our roster is freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores. Our program is going to one where you should be playing a lot of fourth and fifth year seniors and continue to do that. That's the way this program got good before. And you can't do that in two years or three years."

Edsall remains upbeat and eager to tackle the numerous challenges that lie ahead.

It will make playing a round of golf on a difficult course with 30 mile per hour winds seem as easy as a tap-in putt.

"I'm at a point and time where in my life, if I'm not enjoying it, I'm not going to sit there and bang my head against the wall knowing there's no answer. It's a tremendous challenge. It's one that we've taken head on and will beat it.

"It just doesn't happen overnight."

g.keefe@theday.com

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