STORRS, Conn. – Paul Pasqualoni took over a Connecticut football program in 2011 that had risen in less than a decade from Division I-AA school to a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.
A former Connecticut high school football player, he had cut his coaching teeth in the state before moving on to national fame and 107 wins in 14 years at Syracuse.
With Pasqualoni and his state recruiting ties, a relatively new stadium and a state-of-the-art practice facility, UConn was expected to continue a trajectory toward national prominence, something it seemed to be on before former coach Randy Edsall left for Maryland.
"I didn't come here not to have success," Pasqualoni said this week.
But he didn't.
This week, Pasqualoni was fired, less than three years after taking the job. He managed just a 10-18 record, including an 0-4 start to this season. His dismissal came two days after a 41-12 loss last Saturday at Buffalo, a team that's only other victory this season came by three points over Stony Brook.
But there were signs of trouble almost from the very beginning.
Shortly after Pasqualoni was hired, the program's biggest donor, Robert Burton, asked for his $7 million back and to have his name removed from the team's football complex.
Burton had wanted another Connecticut native, Steve Addazio, replace Edsall and felt his opinion was being ignored. He was eventually talked into keeping his money and his name with the program, but was never in Pasqualoni's corner.
Addazio ended up at Temple and now, Boston College.
Pasqualoni then lost his biggest ally at UConn when athletic director Jeff Hathaway, the man who hired him, was sent packing just before the start of the 2011 season. That move came after the school's new president, Susan Herbst, launched a review of Hathaway's handling of the athletic department, including the hiring of the football coach.
She later hired Warde Manuel, a former Michigan football player, away from Buffalo to take the job as UConn's new AD.
"The people that are there now are not the people who hired me, more or less," Pasqualoni said this week. "Susan was always supportive, but in this business, things change. Nothing ever stays the same."
None of that would have mattered had UConn won on the field. But it didn't.
The Huskies finished Pasqualoni's first season at 5-7 and there were rumblings. The school was lobbying for a spot in the ACC amid the conference realignment shuffle, and that league was looking for a candidate that had a high profile in basketball and football. UConn had been considered a front-runner. Louisville eventually ended up with the invitation.
A second 5-7 season put the coach squarely on the hot seat. But Manuel said he didn't pull the trigger then, because he saw progress after wins over Pittsburgh and at Louisville against the nationally-ranked Cardinals.
Pasqualoni relieved long-time friend George DeLeone of his duties as offensive coordinator, replacing him with T.J. Weist, who had been an assistant to Butch Jones at Cincinnati.
But the offense didn't improve. UConn ranks 119th in the FBS in total offense and last in rushing at just under 46 yards per game. The Huskies opened this season with a loss to Towson, an FCS school, then to Maryland and Edsall, then to the two schools with ties to Manuel, Michigan and Buffalo.
Manuel said with Connecticut, the marquee name in the new American Athletic Conference, heading into league play, he decided the time was now to try and salvage the season, and the program's reputation.
Pasqualoni was out, and Weist is in for the interim.
Pasqualoni said he feels good with the shape in which he has left the Huskies. He said his last two recruiting classes have been strong, and the program will have some talented players in the future.
This week, Weist changed quarterbacks, inserting freshman Tim Boyle into the starting lineup over junior Chandler Whitmer. He said there will be increased roles for other freshmen as well and more changes are coming overall. Practices were a bit different this week, with AC/DC blaring during stretches, and players being given more responsibility for motivating their teammates.
"I don't want to sit here and say we're going to run double-reverses, and blitzes on every snap and we're going to do this and we're going to do that," Weist said. "You guys know that hopefully I'm smarter than that.
"But, you'll see some changes."
Manuel said he believes the talent is there to win now. He will conduct a national search for a permanent head coach who can do that.
"I think we have great fans, which ultimately want what I want, what T.J. wants, what this team wants — success," he said. "We have a passionate fan base. I love that. Does it need to be resold? Probably. But what sells it is success."