UConn Basketball

with Kevin Duffy

Ollie is the right fit, but how about Pasqualoni?

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NEW YORK — The UConn fanbase wants one coach canned and another extended for the next half-decade.

Right now, the Husky faithful is 0-for-2.

Despite public outcry, Paul Pasqualoni, on the heels of a second consecutive 5-7 season, will be retained for a third year, the Hartford Courant reported Tuesday morning.

And despite the opposite type of public outcry, Kevin Ollie remains on a one-year deal. Don’t expect that to change this week, either. Really, don’t expect an extension until first semester grades are released. A source familiar with the situation said the UConn administration wants to ensure the team’s academic performance — a serious issue in recent years — is up-to-par before making a move.

Fair enough.

The counter to that: UConn is going through some tough times. If it’s not the 11 percent graduation rate, it’s the postseason ban. If it’s not that, it’s the conference realignment saga, which has UConn stuck in the mud, its tires spinning rapidly in an effort to get somewhere — anywhere — else. Extending Ollie sooner rather than later would be the wise PR move. Everyone from Dick Vitale to ESPN’s Dana O’Neill to The Dove agrees.

Kevin Ollie (UConn athletics)

At this point, it’s a matter of “when,” not “if.”  It’s worth discussing this the same way it’s worth discussing Jim Calhoun’s “never say never” comment. Think Calhoun is going to come back and kick Ollie to the curb? Think he’d coach somewhere other than UConn? There’s a better chance of Ollie and Warde Manuel independently submitting the same winning numbers for the Powerball.

It’s become exceedingly clear that Kevin Ollie is the right choice to lead UConn into the future. If you’re Warde Manuel — hell, if you’re Jonathan Mandeldove — it’s easy to watch Ollie coach, watch his team compete and say “Yeah, this is our guy. No doubt in my mind.”

The question is, can you say the same thing about Pasqualoni? And if you can’t, should he still be the coach?

Now, I understand the defense for Pasqualoni — to an extent. Yes, he beat a top 25 team on the road. No, he hasn’t gotten his recruits on the field (with the exception of Chandler Whitmer, who is actually pretty good). And by all accounts, he’s recruited better than Randy Edsall did. He was given Edsall’s leftovers: an inexperienced offensive line and a fairly marginal group of playmakers. None of that is Pasqualoni’s fault.  So, in a sense, it wouldn’t be a “fair” to axe him now.

Just like it wasn’t “fair” to give Kevin Ollie a one-year contract. But Ollie had never coached before, and Manuel wanted to see how he handled the most difficult (and abnormal) of coaching situations. I get it.

What I don’t get is the notion that Pasqualoni, 63, will overcome everything working against him — two losing seasons, very little history within the program, membership in the Big East, his age (let’s face it; it’s a factor) — and turn UConn into a consistent eight-or-nine game winner. Not with an offense that finished 121st in the nation in scoring (17.8 points per game) and rushing yards (87.9). Not unless there are some substantial changes there.

These are wild times in college football. Schools are jockeying for spots in these soon-to-be mega-conferences, and football plays an enormous role in the re-shuffling. Because of that, Pasqualoni’s task isn’t to go 6-6 and earn a trip to the Luigi’s Italian Ice Bowl; it’s to elevate the perception of UConn football to the point where the big players in realignment say, “We like what’s going on in Storrs. We’re going to invite UConn to our league.”

Maybe Manuel believes he’s that guy. To me, though, if it’s Pasqualoni vs. The Field, I’m taking the field. I’m willing to bet there’s a better long-term fit out there. Maybe not a guy with Pasqualoni’s resume, but a better long-term fit.

Conversely, if it’s Kevin Ollie vs. The Field, I’m taking Ollie. Odds are Manuel is, too.

He’s just probably not in a rush to say it. The damage of the one-year contract has already been done. Most of the 2013 class is committed, and UConn struck out on its top targets — Xavier Rathan Mayes, Noah Vonleh and Brandon Austin — since Ollie became coach. Rathan Mayes told Hearst Connecticut that the one-year deal played a role in his choice to choose Florida State. Then there’s Austin, a 6-foot-6 guard who spurned UConn for Providence, which already has two McDonald’s All-Americans in the backcourt. Multiple sources in Austin’s camp declined to comment on the significance of Ollie’s contract in the decision.

So you do the math.

I’m sure Manuel did. In giving Ollie the one-year contract, he felt it was worth sacrificing a 2013 recruit to leave open the option of a national search. And now, with that 2013 class essentially wrapped up, there isn’t much of a difference in restructuring Ollie’s deal tomorrow or in the middle of January.

There is, however, a huge difference in finding a new football coach now or in 2013. Time is of the essence. UConn has been stuck in neutral for two seasons; it can ill-afford a third.

Unless Manuel can honestly say, “This is my guy,” he might have been better off cutting the cord this fall.

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