HARTFORD — Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel says he’s looking for football coach who can bring more excitement, passion, and above all wins to UConn.
Manuel fired coach and Cheshire native Paul Pasqualoni on Monday, with his team 0-4 and coming off a 41-12 loss at Buffalo.
Pasqualoni, in his third season at UConn, finishes with a 10-18 record. Associate head coach George DeLeone, who coached the offensive line, also was let go.
“I’m changing now because we have to have different leadership to get different results,” Manuel said. “I’m not comfortable with losing.”
The school said it will pay Pasqualoni $750,000 to buy out his contract.
The Huskies are off this week before hosting South Florida on Oct. 12.
Offensive coordinator T.J. Weist, whose energetic style is a contrast to the more reserved Pasqualoni, will take over as interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
The 48-year-old Weist, who played at Alabama, came to Connecticut in the offseason from Cincinnati, where he coached wide receivers.
Weist also has worked at his alma mater, Michigan, Southern Illinois, Tulsa and Western Kentucky.
At UConn, he’s overseen an offense that ranks last in the bowl subdivision in rushing, and 119th out of 123 teams in total offense.
Weist said the team is taking the approach that it is starting at 0-0 entering conference play.
“I definitely think I’m prepared for this, and I’m ready for it,” Weist said. “And I want it.”
Manuel said Weist would have to show he can win to have “any shot” at becoming the team’s permanent coach.
Manuel said he will not be contacting active coaches at other programs about the job until after the season. He said the school will be fiscally responsible in hiring a new coach, but will not take a step back when it comes to being competitive in paying its coach. Pasqualoni was to make $1.6 million this year.
The 64-year-old Connecticut native took over the football team at its height. UConn had appeared in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, losing 48-20 to Oklahoma. But the Huskies finished 5-7 in consecutive years, and calls for Pasqualoni’s job started mounting after the team opened the season with a loss to Towson.
UConn then fell to Maryland and Randy Edsall, the coach whom Pasqualoni replaced. The team was competitive in a 24-21 home loss to Michigan, in front of a record-setting crowd at Rentschler Field, before being blown out at Buffalo.
“I would have loved the opportunity to get over the hump,” Pasqualoni said Monday night. “We were going to make a few changes and get this thing back on the road.”
But Manuel, the athletic director at Buffalo before accepting the Connecticut job in 2012, called last Saturday’s loss unacceptable.
“I am not throwing in the towel on this season,” Manuel said. “I want this team to wake up, play hard, and play the tough, exciting football that we’ve come to know.”
Cornerback Byron Jones said players were shocked to learn of Pasqualoni’s firing, but believe they can rally around Weist as the Huskies enter conference play.
“No one is quitting,” he said. “All of our goals are still attainable. It’s very important that we collectively get together and turn things around. We really have no other choice.”
Weist said there will be changes in both style and in personnel on the field, and said he was open to the idea of taking the red shirt off highly touted freshman quarterback Tim Boyle. But he said no final decisions have been made.
Pasqualoni said the decision had already been made to make a switch to Boyle from Chandler Whitmer, and he expects that to happen.
University President Susan Herbst said the school is looking forward to a “stronger future that starts today” and urged fans to support the team for the rest of the season.
“As we saw at our last home game, the amazing energy and highly charged spirit of our fans breathes life into this team and that must continue and be repeated again and again,” she said. “There is no substitute.”
Pasqualoni was in his 43rd year as a coach, but this was his first head coaching job since being fired by Syracuse in 2004, after leading the Orange to 107 wins in 14 seasons.
He said he hopes to remain a football coach and will wait to see if any opportunities develop to get back into the game.
“I love football,” he said. “I may go down to Rye Park and coach the South Windsor eighth-grade team. I don’t know if they need a coach. I’ve got football in my blood.”