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Before hiring a new head coach, UConn must figure out what it wants its football program to be

Connecticut owes its future coach and its players something the program lacks -- purpose.

Randy Edsall will step aside as UConn's head coach following this season, the coach announced today. The announcement, which comes two games into a 2021 campaign that's seen the team lose 45-0 to Fresno State and at home to Holy Cross, gives UConn plenty of runway to choose the new head Husky.

And while there will be a time and a place to speculate on who that man will be, it misses the larger point. Now is the time for UConn to take the time and convene an honest conversation on UConn's place in the college football world and, more importantly, football's place within the university.

This is a school that thought so little of its football program that it voluntarily left the American and cast its football program into the ocean that is FBS independence without so much as a life vest and a paddle in order to place its vaunted men's and women's basketball programs in the Big East.

This was one of two FBS institutions that sat out the entire 2020 season. I don't say that to imply UConn isn't serious about football because it played last season or to cast those that played as cavalier about their players' health in light of UConn's decision, but the basketball teams played full schedules. 

If this UConn team can't defeat Holy Cross, it's fair to wonder if a win awaits the Huskies on their 2021 journey. Games with Purdue, Army, Vanderbilt, Clemson and UCF follow. (A funny and not-too-insane message board title discovered by Dan Wolken in his Misery Index: "“We need to call off the Clemson game, for the safety of our players, much like we shut down last season.”)

UConn does have a national TV deal with CBS Sports Network, a contract worth a reported $500,000 per year. (The American pays out $7 million per school per year.) A program spokesman told me UConn does not have a contract with a bowl game.

To paraphrase Nick Saban, is this really what UConn wants its football program to be? 

The program lacks purpose right now, and the institutional indifference wafts through the locker room like disinfectant spray.

Once upon a time, UConn had a football program to be proud of. Edsall won two Big East titles in his first run through in Storrs, yes, but before that the program was a regular contender in the Yankee Conference, what is essentially now the Colonial Athletic Association.

Before the administration shops this job to agents and coaches, it must stop and ask what it really has to offer. Floor seats to basketball games? Annual paycheck games against opponents like Clemson and Ohio State without so much as the possibility of winning any sort of championship? Isn't playing in the CAA against regional rivals like Rhode Island and Maine preferable to whatever this is? 

Now, it's easy for me to suggest the program drop to FCS and hard for an administrator, working on a short-term contract of his or her own, to execute. There's a reason only Idaho has done so in recent FBS history. As my friend Matt Brown once pointed out, the benefits of dropping to FCS take years to show themselves but the costs must be dealt with immediately. UConn has money problems now without sacrificing a TV contract that pays pennies by FBS standards and jeopardizing future paychecks from Power 5 opponents. Maybe UConn football's proper place really is in the FBS.

But if that's the case, the administration owes it to the university and the program to arrive at that answer through an honest investigation -- of its options and of its soul. And if the program is to remain in FBS, it owes its future coaching staff and its players something to play for, and support to realistically meet its goals. It owes them a purpose.

Because right now, the 2020 UConn football season seems more enjoyable than what 2021 and beyond are shaping up to be.