WR Coach Aaron Smith Back At A Place He Calls Home
February 18, 2017
When head coach Randy Edsall returned to Storrs and began filling out his staff, it was apparent he wanted a mix of old and new; a combination of coaches and/or players that had been in Storrs and played a part in the success seen during his time, as well as new thoughts and fresh ideas. On offense, one of the old is fairly young, wide receiver coach Aaron Smith, a former player under Edsall during the Huskies run at a first bowl appearance in 2004, when UConn defeated Toledo in the Motor City Bowl 39-10. It was Smith's second year in Storrs, having transferred in from Maryland a year prior and he couldn't help but reminisce as we sat in the club level of The Rent, looking out over the snow covered field below.
"The crazy thing as we sit here, looking at the stadium, my first game here was against Indiana, the opening of the stadium," Smith said. "UConn means a lot. Obviously, to be back to the place that I call home, where I played college football, but also to be back here with Coach Edsall, is definitely special."
After graduating, Smith took his first coaching position in New London at the Coast Guard Academy in 2006, before moving on to Columbia for five seasons as receiver coach and adding recruiting coordinator in his final season. Boston College was his next stop in 2012, leading Alex Amidon to 2nd in the ACC in receiving yards. His last four seasons have been with the Great Danes of UAlbany and his role of both WR Coach and recruiting coordinator expanded to pass game coordinator in 2016. With eleven years in coaching, Smith can bring a decade of experience to Storrs.
"The big thing is when you start off in the coaching field, it's like anything, you want to build on the things that you learned," he said. "Playing for Coach Edsall, I learned a lot about respect, doing things the right way and being accountable. That's the way that I've tried to coach and tried to pass that on to the guys. The big thing is just do things right."
The phone call from Edsall was a surprise, but it was one he won't forget.
"When I first got the call I did a double-take at the phone," Smith recalled. "Obviously you dream of coming back to a place that is special to you and this place is. I was excited to hear from him and I was excited for him when he got the job. As somebody that benefited from him and learned a lot about life, when I got the call I was really excited."
Smith has kept an eye on the Huskies program from afar, one that has seen just one bowl game appearance (St. Petersburg, 2015) since the Huskies were in the Fiesta Bowl, January 1, 2011.
"You look at it from a different view when you're a coach," Smith said. "My focus was mainly on the players and the guys that I was with. Obviously this place is special, but it's different as a coach, you're focused on where you're at. I always paid attention because I had friends on the staff here and people involved in the program, so you want the program to be successful. I'm excited to be back and hopefully we get this thing rolling again."
The philosophy Smith will bring, much like Edsall has described since being re-introduced, does not vary much from what has been in place with the program. It's still all about finding the right guys that fit the mold here at UConn. As Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has said, 'our job [as coaches] isn't to assemble the best players, it's to put together the best TEAM.'
"I think the big thing is it's about people," Smith said when describing the approach. "That's one thing that Coach Edsall is big on, it's about development. When you recruit to Albany, it's different than recruiting to a Villanova, JMU or Delaware that's a little bit more established program. So you need to find the right guys, the guys that fit and then coach them that way. To me, that symbolizes what Coach has done here at UConn. He's found the right players, been successful with them and turned them into really good football players, productive men in society, but also guys that are playing in the NFL which is remarkable when you walk down the hallway in the complex and you see all the names in the hall. Some of those guys I've played with and some were puppies when I was a senior, but you see the success. It's really about the young men that you bring in, development and building that foundation."
Smith has received several phone calls from teammates since getting the job. He also still has ties to the area and was in Connecticut when Edsall's call came in.
"My wife is from here," he said. "Cell phones were buzzing, everyone was excited. Some people see what Coach has done with wins in this program, but more importantly, the opportunities that guys have gotten since and not just in coaching. Whatever guys are in, they owe a lot to Coach Edsall and we talk about that constantly. When he got the job we were all excited and since I joined the staff, I've talked to a lot of those guys and everyone is excited about the potential of what this place can be."
As the spring season gets ready to begin in March, the opportunity for the new coaches to begin working directly with the Huskies players will finally take place.
"I haven't been through a change as a player, but obviously when you coach football you go through it and you leave guys behind and vice versa," Smith said. "I think the big thing is, the players here have an understanding of what Coach has done before, so I think they are really excited about taking the next step and getting to know us. They are excited to play football, they came here to get a great education, have a great experience, but to also win football games."
NOTE: Tune in to Monday's edition of UConn Sports Nation to hear the full 1:1 interview with Coach Smith from Wednesday's 'Meet the Coaches' event at The Rent.
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