Diaco is the head coach of the Connecticut Huskies football team, a job that has long been devoid of higher purpose, a job that previously belonged to inspirational Rockne-esque titans like Randy Edsall and Paul Pasqualoni. And so it’s understandable that Diaco might slip slightly off his rocker in an attempt to garner attention for a program that hasn’t ever really been deserving of much attention, outside of the fact that it might be the least interesting major-college program in America.
Last year, in his first season at Connecticut, Diaco went 2-10, but one of those victories was over Central Florida, a fellow American Athletic Conference program with a minor track record of success and a head coach named George O’Leary, who, coincidentally enough, has been known to engage in imaginary narratives of his own. But what Diaco did the other day makes O’Leary’s transgressions seem utterly rational by comparison; he tweeted out a photograph of a trophy he’d made up on his own, to promote a rivalry with Central Florida – something he, and only he, has being referring to as the “Civil Conflict” – that he’d also made up out of thin air.
— UConn Football (@UConnFootball) June 1, 2015
Diaco did this, of course, because he has to do something. He did this because Connecticut is an awful football program with no natural recruiting base, and so this was a way of garnering attention in a state like Florida, where high school football players of the type that might help Diaco keep his job tend to reside. But the amazing thing about Bob Diaco is that he’s refusing to back down, even in the face of ridicule, even after O’Leary and other Central Florida officials admitted they had no idea what the hell the Civil Conflict was supposed to be.
On Monday morning, asked about it during a conference call, Diaco doubled down. What did it matter, he asked, if this was all a fiction? What did it matter if Central Florida refused to acknowledge his ploy, if O’Leary said, quite understandably, that it’s hard to generate a rivalry with a school 10 states away? Bob Diaco is in control of Bob Diaco’s narrative, dammit.
“Why do I have to call their athletic department to say I’ve got them targeted as our rival, period?” he asked. “What control over that would they have and what do I care what they think? If they don’t want to honor our rivalry, we’re not their rival, that’s on them. I don’t control what they want. If they don’t want to be a part of the trophy, I don’t care about that, either.”
And so on October 10 in Orlando, two teams will play a game that is only a rivalry to one of them. And Connecticut will be playing for the rights to a trophy that is exclusively their own, and they will be playing for a coach who has finally extended the limit of imaginary sports narratives to its breaking point.
Because that’s what’s really going on here, isn’t it? For decades now, we’ve been listening to athletes and coaches make up stories about how they’ve been disrespected, and we’ve watched them tackle these straw men and declare themselves vindicated. But now, a football coach in Connecticut has decided that he’s going to attempt to generate respect out of thin air, and he’s declared that his narrative, meant to generate respect, is being disrespected.
Confused? Hell, so am I. But suddenly, I’m kind of curious to watch a football game between Central Florida and Connecticut, so I guess in the end it doesn’t matter if anything in sports is true so long as there’s a lack of respect. Even if that lack of respect is for one’s own self.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb