STORRS - Just a few months after hiring Randy Edsall for a second term, the UConn football team has a new coach.
Well, the new guy isn’t replacing Edsall as head coach of the Huskies. And he’s not even drawing a salary.
But he’s probably more familiar to his players than Edsall and perhaps even better liked.
Dan Orlovsky, the quarterback who became perhaps the best UConn football player ever and has spent the last dozen years in the NFL, was on hand for the Huskies’ first day of spring practice Tuesday morning at the Shenkman Center.
Orlovsky, along with former UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood, is serving as a volunteer assistant coach.
“I’ve been on Dan about finishing his degree for the last 12 years. So he’s actually taking courses. He’ll be finished with his degree at the end of this semester,” Edsall said of Orlovsky, UConn’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. “So he’s actually a student assistant.”
Orlovsky, who like Edsall spent last season with the Detroit Lions, is not currently under contract. He still hopes an NFL team might need his services for another year or two, but until then he’s finishing up his degree and helping the Huskies.
“That was the coolest thing for me,” said UConn tight end Tommy Myers, who like Orlovsky grew up in Connecticut rooting for the Huskies.
Myers, a senior from Coventry, talked Orlovsky’s ear off a tad recalling his days as an elementary school student and UConn camper.
“I was sharing stories with him,” Myers said after UConn’s practice Tuesday. “I remember when I went to camp when I was like in fifth grade. He was at the 50-yard line and he just chucks it like 50 yards right into a net. I was like ‘Oh my God! It’s Dan Orlovsky.’ ”
In what was the first of 15 spring practices for the Huskies, who are trying to regroup after a horrible season that culminated in Bob Diaco’s firing and Edsall’s return, they were aided by something of a Storrs legend.
“That’s the face of UConn’s program. It’s nobody else. It’s not me or anyone else,” Edsall said. “It’s him. He’s the guy that did it. He’s the guy that stood up and said ‘Hey, I’m going to be different. I’m not going to go to Purdue or Michigan State. I’m going to come to UConn and make it special.’ And he did.”
Smallwood played for a time in the NFL, as have a number of Huskies recently. Running back Jordan Todman is expected to visit Thursday. But Orlovsky’s presence had plenty of heads turning on Tuesday.
“Anytime you have a guy that has, what, 13 years in the league? You want to get everything you can from him, even in his mannerisms. It’s really cool to have someone like that around,” Myers said.
Actually, Edsall recalls those summer camp days when a young Myers was in awe of a then-college quarterback from Shelton High. Although he’s still getting to know almost all of his 100-plus players, Edsall feels he knows Myers quite well - well enough to joke about their old days together.
“I feel good because he’s lost his hair and I still have mine,” Edsall said.
Orlovsky spent most of his time Tuesday with new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the Huskies’ quarterbacks, as was expected.
“If it was me…I’m going to be like a sponge and try to get as much information and learn as much about quarterback play and how to handle certain things, how to be a leader, how to be a take-charge guy,” Edsall said.
Edsall and his coaching staff have been guiding the players through offseason workouts, meetings and some individual drills, so Tuesday was hardly their first introduction to the way things are around the program now.
From their early impressions, some of the Huskies are embracing the change.
“It’s new. So you’re always excited for new things. But there’s a lot of difference,” Myers said. “People are fresh, ready to go, excited. They hit the field with passion. That’s what football is all about.”
Linebacker Junior Joseph, another of the team’s seniors, echoed Myers’ thoughts.
“It’s just a different feeling. It’s just one of those things where when you’re used to something for three years and a new staff comes in, you can see the difference. Just by the vibe and everything like that,” Joseph said.
Chris Lee, a tight end who was recently moved to offensive line, has left the program. A junior from Severna Park, Maryland, the 6-foot-7, 280-pound played in 10 games last season and 16 in his career, mostly on special teams.
Edsall said he met with Lee last week and that the player essentially “lost his love of football.” Lee is likely to enroll at a college closer to his Maryland home.
Center Ryan Crozier, guard Tommy Hopkins and defensive end Luke Carrezola were all wearing red jerseys Tuesday, indicating they aren’t to be involved in “contact drills.” Each is still recovering from injuries.
“They’re cleared for everything other than contact. … They’re coming along,” said Edsall, noting that none of the three is likely to be fully cleared by the end of spring practice.
The Huskies will begin practice for the regular season a week earlier than in recent years, due to an NCAA rule change. The players will report to campus July 27. … Edsall said his team will not have team captains this season, but will have what he calls a “leadership council” made up of one player from each position group. … Edsall’s evaluation of the first practice: “I thought we turned the ball over too much on offense. …. I thought that defensively we ran to the ball pretty well. …. There’s no doubt we’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m not disappointed about (Tuesday) at all.”