- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bob Diaco officially started work on Monday as UConn's new head coach. The former Notre Dame defensive coordinator takes over the Huskies after four years as the Irish's DC.
ESPN.com chatted with Diaco on Wednesday to see how he plans to attack his new gig, along with what he will take from his time in South Bend, Ind.
UConn head coach Bob Diaco. How does that sound?
Bob Diaco: It sounds great. It's an absolute honor, and I'm so excited. The distinctions of the university, and the DNA of the university. And the distinctions of the Northeast corridor, and the DNA of the Northeast corridor are in lockstep with my own DNA and what I believe the program needs to do to win. So it resonates awesome. It feels great wearing it. Absolutely.
What was your first order of business when you got started on Monday?
BD: Priority 1 was to meet with the staff that was already here -- logistically, as it relates to the state of Connecticut and the University of Connecticut, UConn, and the logistics of a portion of the business that I wasn't even here for. I wanted to meet with those guys to see, moving forward, if we were going to add them to our new plans. I'm not someone who just changes to change. I have a massive amount of respect for the coaching staff that preceded me. I know those guys. I know a little bit of their football IQ, and they are awesome coaches. So there's probably a lot of things that if I just came in to dismiss, I'd be probably missing the boat on all the great things that could be done around here. So I'm just trying to analyze all the systems and meet with staffers.
I was going to follow-up on that a little bit. How do you begin to fill out your staff? What's the process with that?
BD: I think that the barometer is to add people to the organization that fit with my ideologies. I'm going to drive this bus the way that I see it should be driven, and I anticipate and have an expectations for success. And if that happens, great. If it doesn't, I'm going to do it the way that I see that it [needs] to be done. So knowing that already, I need to add people that that fits with. And the people need to be, in their DNA and what they want, they need to have the players first, be great teachers and communicators, good people and loyal and trustworthy people. So that's what we're looking for. Those are the qualities we're looking for.
This is a program that has had no shortage of defensive success in recent years, but offensively it's had some real struggles. Especially you as a defensive coordinator, what's your approach to fixing that?
BD: I believe that we need to put the players in the best positions for success. We need to have a real plan in the acquisition of talent that suit our systems. Not just try to collect players, but collect and acquire players [who] represent our ideologies, and then also the jobs that we're going to ask them to do. And there's a lot of work to do in those areas. A lot of work to do.
Your introductory press conference got great reviews. From your standpoint, you probably weren't working on much sleep, but how did you feel going into it, and what kind of reception did you receive personally after?
BD: Going in, whether it be myself, or my wife Julia, or my brother Frankie, just talking to me and just reminding me, and me reminding myself, to just speak from the heart as it relates to what I believe. And that's it. If it plays, it plays. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It played, and that is an indication of this incredible fit. I didn't prepare anything that I thought that UConn Husky Nation would want to hear. I just prepared the things that I thought. I just said the things that I thought. I answered the questions based on what I thought should be the case. So it just speaks to me, this is absolutely the right place for me and my family. The reception has been wonderful. The reception's been fantastic. I feel so welcomed and warm, and the people have just been incredible, not only on campus but off campus.
Notre Dame players spoke fondly of you meeting with them on Thursday after you had taken the UConn job. How important was it for you to address those guys one final time?
BD: It was incredibly important for me. What happens is -- and I'm trying to do same thing here with these guys -- when you've sat in all the chairs and you get to sit in a different chair, I sat in the chair as a player, I sat in the chair as an assistant coach, I sat in the chair as a unit leader, and now I'm sitting in the chair of the head coach. And for me to not address the ways that I felt through all those different phases of my life when something like this happens, is just foolish. I don't want to become something else now that I'm in a different chair. So I wanted to be gracious and communicate and do things. Begin with class and character and integrity, and end with class and character and integrity. I don't want to slip way in the darkness of the night. I box my office up in the middle of the day. I was sure to see everyone I possibly could and thank them for the opportunity to serve. And then I wanted to tell those players how much I loved them and what I had hoped for them in the future.
You had the title of assistant head coach these last two seasons at Notre Dame. What did you learn during that time about running a program?
BD: A good amount, and that's all because of Coach [Brian] Kelly. He was just fantastic. Communicating with me about the intricacies of the program -- from the recruiting piece, to dining, to academics, to admissions and then services and discipline, and just practice structure, practice phase times of the year, discretionary periods. We would have a lot of conversations about all that stuff. I'm not sitting here and everything's coming at me in Japanese. I don't have all the answers, and I'm getting hit with stuff each day, questions that I haven't had to answer. But I've heard the vernacular before, and I'm just working off what I think should be done, and what I've observed. I've had a chance to observe at Notre Dame in great detail, because of the access Coach Kelly gave me.
You're a Jersey guy. How important is it to make a dent in that state's recruiting.
BD: I would say just the whole Northeast. There's not any particular state. I think there's a lot of players in New York, I think there's a lot of players in Jersey. Massachusetts and Connecticut are great areas that have great players that are a fit for UConn. Eastern PA, you can dip down and definitely spot Delaware, check out Baltimore, into DC and Northern Virginia. And by the time you get done with all that, you should be able to have a nice full board of players [who] are interested in Husky football and UConn.
BD: I think it's a spectacular place, as it relates to one of the top-20 public universities in the country. It's got a large student body that is kind of in this really cool little community here in the valleys of Connecticut — 75 percent of the students live on campus so you've got this great school spirit. It's an intense science, technology, engineering and mathematics university, where you can really make an impact with young people in the country [who] are interested in those areas and playing great football. I'm excited about the league. I'm excited about the American [Athletic] Conference and where it's going. And I'm excited about the teams in the American Conference and how competitive they are. So those are all areas that I'm very excited about.
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