Coach Paul returns to Syracuse - on business
Paul Pasqualoni chuckled at the question: Will he bring his family to Syracuse this week when his UConn Huskies play the Orange?
To be sure, this is no sentimental journey for the second-winningest coach in Syracuse history.
''This is a business trip. Really, all I can see is getting ready to play this game,'' Pasqualoni said of Friday night's matchup. ''We're not going up to central New York to pick apples, ride on the hay wagon.''
A decade ago, when he was coach of the Orange, Pasqualoni sometimes made the time to do just that with his wife, Jill, and their two young sons. But a program that had reached lofty heights in the 1980s under Dick MacPherson and in the 1990s with Pasqualoni at the helm began to become simply ordinary and then awful after the graduation of stars Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney.
After going 10-3 and finishing ranked No. 14 in 2001 in Freeney's final season, Syracuse played below .500. The Orange went 4-8 in 2002, Pasqualoni's only losing season, and 6-6 each of the next two years.
Former athletic director Jake Crouthamel, who hired Pasqualoni to replace MacPherson, was a staunch supporter of Pasqualoni and gave him a positive evaluation after the Orange upset then-No. 17 Boston College in the 2004 season finale. That vaulted Syracuse into a four-way tie for the Big East championship, Pasqualoni's fourth league title, and made the Orange eligible to play in the postseason.
But the win at BC was Syracuse's first victory in 11 conference road games and only served to emphasize the team's inconsistent play. Syracuse had begun the 2004 season with a 51-0 loss at Purdue on national television, the most lopsided season-opening defeat in program history.
When Georgia Tech beat Syracuse 51-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl to end the season, Pasqualoni's fate was sealed. He was fired by new athletic director Daryl Gross, who had been on the job for less than two weeks.
Pasqualoni's departure was a public relations nightmare for a school known for its Newhouse School of Public Communications. His firing came only three weeks after new chancellor Nancy Cantor had given him a public vote of confidence to return for the final year of his contract.
Pasqualoni left after 14 seasons with a 107-59-1 record, behind only Ben Schwartzwalder's 153 victories, and a 6-3 mark in bowl games.
While Pasqualoni was plying his trade in the NFL in stints with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, things deteriorated a whole lot more at Syracuse under his successor, Greg Robinson.
Robinson's first team went 1-10, the first time since Syracuse began playing football in 1889 that it lost 10 games. He was fired after four seasons, a 10-37 overall record and 3-25 mark in the Big East.
Doug Marrone, who played at Syracuse for MacPherson, is in his fourth season as head coach and has begun to rebuild the program. It's been no easy task. Despite a surprising 8-5 record and a bowl victory in 2010, Marrone is 19-24 overall and 7-16 in the conference as he struggles to transform the Orange (2-4, 1-1 Big East) into a consistent winner.
Pasqualoni, in his second season with the Huskies (3-4, 0-2), likes what he sees.
''Their personnel looks very good,'' Pasqualoni said. ''It's going to be a tough game. I'm sure they are disappointed in the number of wins they have, just like we are. But they are playing very hard and they are playing very solid football.''
This will be Pasqualoni's first trip to the Carrier Dome as an opposing coach, and he's not certain what to expect.
''That will be interesting,'' said Pasqualoni, who had more than his fair share of critics in his final seasons here. ''To tell you the truth, I haven't thought about it a great deal, other than it's a big game in our conference and it's a big game for us.''
Rest assured he's put his tenure at Syracuse far in the rearview mirror.
''Obviously, I had a lot of good years there, a lot of good experiences,'' Pasqualoni said. ''For me, it's more about the people we were with, what we achieved. I thought we achieved a lot. I thought we had a lot of great kids.
''That's not going to be some big sentimental thing for me.''