How UConn interim coach Lou Spanos guided Huskies through challenging season: ‘Beam of light’

UConn coach Lou Spanos looks on against Clemson during the fourth quarter during a game on Nov. 13.

UConn coach Lou Spanos looks on against Clemson during the fourth quarter during a game on Nov. 13.

Jacob Kupferman / Getty Images

Lou Spanos’ 10-game stint as UConn’s interim coach is headed down to its final act. And as he begins to prepare for his next gig, whether it’s in Storrs or elsewhere, he remains appreciative of how players have responded under his leadership.

“They’ve been resilient,” Spanos said Tuesday during his weekly Zoom conference. “I’ve got a lot of respect for this team.”

UConn’s regular season finale is Saturday (noon, CBS Sports Network) against No. 19 Houston at Rentschler Field. Jim Mora, hired to replace Randy Edsall, will officially take over the next day.

Mora, the former NFL and UCLA coach, has spent the last few weeks evaluating the ins and outs of the program. That includes connecting with recruits, boosters, and most importantly current players and assistants.

Among them, of course, is Spanos, whose 26-year coaching career included two seasons as Mora’s defensive coordinator with the Bruins. Because of that connection, it’s been suggested that Mora may retain Spanos as he works to formulate his staff in the coming weeks.

Spanos, 50, has been mum on the possibility, declining to provide any insight into his recent conversations with Mora.

“We’re focusing on this team, this season,” Spanos said. “Coach Mora, I have great respect. We were able to talk. We’re focusing on us getting better.”

It’s likely Mora, 60, will overhaul most of the staff, as tends to happen in these situations. But Spanos is a unique case, having drawn almost universal praise for how he’s handled things in wake of Edsall’s abrupt retirement.

“As soon as Coach Spanos came in, he was an immediate beam of light,” senior long snapper Brian Keating said. “He’s always someone I’ve respected immensely. Obviously, I didn’t get to know him as well when he was on the defensive side of the ball just because I was on special teams; as specialists we kind of do our own thing. Being able to see him have the opportunity to be interim head coach, he immediately focused on the entire team, especially these upperclassmen and seniors I’ve been with the last four to five years.

“He came up to us and said, ‘We’re trying to make this experience as fun as possible for you guys.’ … He’s just been an absolute pleasure to play under. I have so much respect for him as a person and as a coach.”

No. 19

HOUSTON

at UCONN

Saturday, Noon (CBSSN)

It’s now Mora’s job to resuscitate the program. No small task. The Huskies are 1-10 this season and have lost 35 of their last 36 games against FBS opponents. They’re a 32.5-point underdog against 10-1 Houston.

Making matters more difficult, Mora will be dealing with significant roster turnover. Junior defensive tackle Travis Jones has already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl and is expected to enter the NFL Draft. Junior cornerback Jeremy Lucien, another multi-year starter, intends to transfer. There’s also plenty of heavy lifting to be done on the recruiting trail.

That said, a few building blocks are in place.

“He’s going to be inheriting a really good group, if I’m being honest,” Keating said. “Just a lot of really good potential at every position, just a lot of guys that have learned to come together, just a lot of energy flying around. We have really good diversity amongst different personalities on the team, a lot of guys with high football IQ, a lot of guys with passion for the game.

“He’s going to be inheriting a squad that has the will to win and is ready to turn the table.”

Will Spanos be a part of that? When asked about his future, Spanos said he’s focused solely on the next — and last — game on the schedule.

“If you ask my wife and kids, all I’m focused on is the now,” Spanos said. “I’m going to watch tape and (follow) the process of just leading into Houston.”

Keeping his response light-hearted, Spanos joked that he hopes his children pick up the phone when he calls to check in.

“That’s what I’m focusing on,” he said. “It’s you (reporters), Houston and hopefully my kids will talk to me. Or text me.”

What happens after that is uncertain.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour