The football committee of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association sent a letter to then-UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway supporting Paul Pasqualoni during the search process for the Huskies next football coach.
They even came to Storrs in support of their friend and mentor when he was hired as UConn’s football coach in 2011.
Those same Connecticut high school football coaches expressed disappointment but understanding in the aftermath of UConn’s decision to fire Pasqualoni and assistant George DeLeone Monday afternoon.
Both coaches grew up in Connecticut – Pasqualoni in Cheshire, DeLeone in New Haven – and have deep ties with many of the state’s coaches.
“Obviously it’s a shame,” said Ansonia’s Tom Brockett, whose top tailback, Arkeel Newsome, committed to UConn in August. “They’ve been two great guys, not only for Connecticut football, but for football in general. At the end of the day it’s a business and they understand that as much as anybody.”
Brockett said he only spoke to Newsome briefly to inform the all-state back of the firing. “Arkeel still wants to go to UConn,” Brockett said. “But it’s way too early to know what he’ll wind up doing.”
Harding coach Jack Cochran said he spoke with his son Casey, the No. 2 quarterback at UConn, Monday morning. He said Casey informed him of rumors that Pasqualoni would be fired soon.
“Paul has always been a great person to me and an excellent football coach,” said Cochran, who sent former Bloomfield all-stater and all-pro end Dwight Freeney to Syracuse when Pasqualoni coached there. “I’m just very sorry this had to happen this way. I feel bad for him and his family that they had to go through this.”
A week ago, Cochran said in a radio interview that he’d suggest his son think about transferring after the season. Cochran reiterated that his son “loves it at UConn,” and that his only advice would be to “stay strong and make the best of it.”
Cochran was surprised at the timing of UConn’s move.
“I thought he would have had a chance to turn it around,” Cochran said. “I’m at a loss for words to explain why. I don’t know why the kids didn’t respond to him.”
Staples coach Marce Petroccio, who is good friends with both Pasqualoni and DeLeone and coached under Pasqualoni at WestConn, also expressed disappointment at the timing.
“You won’t find two better coaches in my opinion or people in this business than Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone,” Petroccio said. “Why you wouldn’t give them a chance to right this ship in conference play is beyond me.
“But it’s a business, I understand it’s a business. I know USC fired Lane Kiffin a few days ago, but this one is a tough one for me to swallow. I thought they deserved an opportunity to have chance to get this sorted out. Why this happened now, I don’t know what you gain from this.”
West Haven coach Ed McCarthy has known Pasqualoni since the mid-1970s and assistant George DeLeone for longer than that. He was not surprised by Monday’s outcome.
“I can’t say I was shocked. I think what happened over the weekend may have greased the skids a little bit,” McCarthy said. “I have nothing but admiration for Paul and George. There are a lot of factors when it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, peoples’ lives are impacted.”
And knowing both men for as long as he has, McCarthy doesn’t think this will be the end of the line.
“They are not ready to pull the plug,” McCarthy said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if this is not their last hurrah.”
Hand coach Steve Filippone was also good friends with Pasqualoni and said he had admiration for what Pasqualoni was trying to achieve with the Huskies. Filippone said he was a bit stunned that Pasqualoni was fired mid-season.
“Yes, I was surprised,” Filippone said, “especially because I think the athletic director (Warde Manuel) said a week ago that he didn’t fire people in the middle of the season. I think he kind of contradicted himself.
“I am heartbroken for those guys (Pasqualoni and DeLeone). I know how hard they work. I still think they’re very capable coaches.”
Former Hand player Matt Walsh is a freshman fullback on the UConn roster.
Tom Marcucci has known Pasqualoni for over 30 years. He and his coaching staff at Notre Dame-West Haven were up in Storrs as recently as August during UConn’s preseason camp. The two staffs had plenty of interraction.
“I’ve never met a high school football coach who had a bad word to say about Paul,” Marcucci said. “He is very generous with his time with other (high school) coaches.”
Marcucci remembers when Pasqualoni recruited Tarek Saleh in the early 1990s and how gracious the former Syracuse coach was upon finding out Saleh chose Wisconsin over the Orangemen.
“I would have had my son and my grandson play for him,” Marcucci said. “He is a great man and great for our business. I hate to see him go out like this. I know it is a results-oriented business but for the lifetime football coaches, it’s a sad day.”
Mike Pucci contributed to this report.