The question is one that comes up every time a coach inherits a program that has had success: Is it easier to rebuild or maintain a level of excellence?
I posed that query to Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni at the Big East spring meetings. Pasqualoni takes over a program coming off its first BCS game, a program that has gone to four straight bowl games and is seemingly on solid footing. No stranger to success himself, having taken Syracuse to BCS games, Pasqualoni had a quick response.
"The University of Connecticut has come a very, very long way in a very short period of time, maybe further than any other program that I can think of that’s made the jump from I-AA football," Pasqualoni said. "So I think it creates a level of very high expectations and really increases the challenge.
"It’s always a more difficult progress to maintain that high level. We always felt like it was a great challenge to get there once, but then to sustain it in sports at any level regardless of the sport you just look around to I-A football and the NBA and the NFL it’s quite a hard thing to maintain that level of excellence. So it’s a big challenge for everybody."
Pasqualoni can speak from experience as well. The program slipped in his final seasons at Syracuse. He did not post winning records in 2002, 2003 or 2004 -- his final season as coach of the Orange. This, after going to nine bowl games in his time there. Pasqualoni spent 14 years at Syracuse in all, and is now a head coach again for the first time since his stint there.
The expectations going into this season have been a bit tempered because of the state of the offense. UConn does not have a starter named at quarterback just yet, Jordan Todman is gone from the backfield and leading receiver Mike Smith is academically ineligible for 2011. The defense should be good, but even Pasqualoni admits the biggest question mark is what will happen at quarterback, where Michael Box, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich and Johnny McEntee are all in the mix.
"The biggest question on anybody’s football team unless you have the veteran seasoned great quarterback usually hovers around who the quarterback is going to be and what the strength of the team is going to be," Pasqualoni said. "In our situation, we have four good candidates to be the quarterback, but we don’t have an experienced quarterback. That’s always going to be a big question no matter where you are."
As for what he will be judging the quarterbacks on, he had one answer: production. And a resolution to the race once fall camp begins? "The earlier the better," Pasqualoni said.