Memories of Memorial Stadium



    When the University of Connecticut dedicated Memorial Stadium in 1953, the head coach of the Huskies was Bob Ingalls. Since that time, nine different men, including Ingalls, have served as the head coach of the UConn program.

    Memorial Stadium has one game left in it – this week’s contest against Kent State will conclude the 50th and final season in the facility. Next year, UConn will begin play at Rentschler Field in East Hartford and that facility will begin its new set of memories.

    But, for the coach who walked the sideline of Memorial Stadium, there are countless numbers of good times and warm thoughts that will always remain.

    Ingalls was the coach of the Huskies for 12 seasons, and worked 11 seasons in Memorial Stadium, including the dedication year of 1953 as UConn had a 2-2 record in the new stadium with a 26-6 win against St. Lawrence on the October 10 opening game. Ingalls passed away shortly after he left coaching, while the other eight coaches of Memorial Stadium are still living.

    The colorful Rick Forzano was the head coach of the Huskies from 1964-65 and he assembled one of the most incredible staffs in school history in ‘65. That staff included current South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, former Cleveland Brown head coach Sam Rutigliano (1978-84) and Dave Adolph and Dan Sekanovich – both of whom became National Football League coordinators. The group also included current UConn head baseball coach Andy Baylock.

    “I was glad to hear that they were building a new stadium, but I still have soft memories for Memorial Stadium,” says Forazno, who later became the head coach of the Detroit Lions. “We had a bunch of kids that were a pleasure to coach. I will always kid them about one thing in the stadium. I would always say, ‘Guys, if you play well, we’re going to build the other side of the stadium.’ Gary Blackney (former Bowling Green head coach and now the defensive coordinator at Maryland) was a player of mine at UConn and still asks me, ‘Coach, did they ever build the other side?’”

    Forzano recalls the 25-7 win over Temple at Memorial Stadium as one of his fondest memories at UConn.

    “It might have been the first time that UConn was ever on television and Temple was a great team,” says Forzano, who now run Rick Forzano Associates in Detroit. “We had a guard name John Beirne who played a great game and later become a successful stockbroker. Temple was a better team but we played over our heads and won the game 24-7.”

    Forzano stays in touch with UConn athletics through Baylock and has nothing but great memories from his time at UConn.

    “We were able to recruit some pretty good kids,” says Forzano. “Andy Baylock was the best freshmen football coach in the country at the time. He was very good making sure that the players kept up with their academics. He would provide study tip cards to the football players and I wound up using them with my own children.”

    John Toner became the UConn football coach in 1966 and served in that position for five years. He led the Huskies to a pair of Yankee Conference titles and then became the long-time athletic director at the school.

    “I am so much in favor of UConn’s expanded campus and the expansion that is planned there for next decade,” says Toner, who now makes his home outside of Savannah, Ga. “I look at the change completely as a plus, but the memories of Memorial Stadium will always be vivid to me.

    “It still remains one of the best playing surfaces for coaches and players. The original plan to expand Memorial Stadium to a Division I-A facility ceased when Gampel Pavilion was built. There was also long-range parking problems. I have fond memories of Memorial Stadium, but with the growth of the university there will be a more purposeful use for that site in the center of campus.”

    Bob Casciola was the head coach at UConn from 1971-72 and has served as an assistant coach under Toner for the previous seasons. Casciola came to Connecticut after serving as an assistant coach at Dartmouth and Princeton.

    “Coaching at Connecticut was a wonderful experience,” says Casciola, who is currently the president of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. “I didn’t know anything but the Ivy League before I came to UConn. At that time, the Ivy League was a major conference and we only had 12 scholarships at UConn. But we had great kids and had a lot of fun.”

    Casciola recruited Eric Torkelson to come to UConn and he later played for the Green Bay Packers.

    “Coaching at Memorial Stadium was a lot of fun,” says Casciola. “There were always a lot of people there and there was great enthusiasm from the students. It was a very intimate place and there were always a lot of young children around. You visited with people after games and it was really a wonderful experience. The other thing I remember is that UConn always had a great marching band that would fill the whole field”

    Casciola remembers a 24-17 win over Holy Cross at the end of the 1971 season as one of his favorite games at Memorial Stadium.

    “The win over Holy Cross was special because UConn had not beat them in several years,” says Casciola, whose ’71 team shared the Yankee Conference championship. “I also remember putting on a high school coaches clinic there each year and the reaction of those guys when we worked them in a college stadium.”

    Larry Naviaux was the head coach of the Huskies from 1973-76 and led UConn to the Yankee Conference title in his first year as head coach. He currently is in the insurance business in Manchester.

    “For the time I was coaching at Connecticut, it was an excellent stadium,” says Naviaux. “There was not a bad seat in the house. I remember going up to the press box and seeing the beautiful view of the rolling hills. It always seemed to be windy there and I always remember there was a big crowd of students up on Freebie Hill.”

    Walt Nadzak was UConn’s head coach from 1977-82 and recently retired after a 15-year stint as athletic director at The Citadel. Nadzak is now serving as a special assistant to the president at that school for fundraising.

    “It was a functional stadium for the times I was there,” says Nadzak. “But, you are always looking for bigger and better things. I was at UConn when the school joined the BIG EAST in basketball and I knew someday, when the time was right, they would do the same thing in football. Joining the BIG EAST did a great job in positioning the University and there has been great growth there. The new stadium will be a great catalyst for the program.”

    Nadzak remembers a Nov. 8, 1980 loss at home to Boston University that put the Terriers in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs and kept the Huskies out.

    “I still can see every play of that game and the exact spots of the ball,” says Nadzak. “But, my family and I have great memories of Connecticut. My son, Tripper, was a two-time state wrestling champion at Rockville High School and earned a scholarship to Duke.”

    Tom Jackson, an assistant under Nadzak, was the head coach of the Huskies from 1983-93 and is the second-winningest coach in UConn history with 119 victories. Jackson, who is currently the director of human resources for Edwards Systems Technology, Co., in Sarasota, Fla., remembers Memorial Stadium as an intimate facility to play in.

    “There was an uniqueness about Memorial Stadium,” says Jackson. “I always liked how you would run out of the Facilities Building and the first thing you would see was the main section of bleachers. It’s not the Rose Bowl and Beaver Stadium, but it had a great connection with those that had played and coached there before you.

    “When you were at Memorial Stadium, it was like being part of a small community. We won more games there than we lost and that is always good. To me, Connecticut football was more about people and the interaction between the players and the institution instead of the bells and whistles.”

    One of Jackson’s greatest memories in the stadium was a 20-19 win over Delaware late in the ’87 season. That game began a three-game winning streak against Delaware and head coach Tubby Raymond, who Jackson still regularly talks to.

    “Delaware had one last chance to win the game at the end on a pass play,” remembers Jackson. “It was right in the scoreboard corner and I thought the Delaware kid was going to make the catch. But, Dwayne Miller came over from the corner and broke up the play and we won.”

    Skip Holtz was the head coach at UConn from 1994-98 and led the school to its first-ever postseason trip in the sport of football. UConn advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Championship in 1998 and Memorial Stadium played host to a first round game – a 42-34 win over Hampton on Nov. 28.

    “I will always have special memories of my time at Connecticut,” says Skip Holtz, who now serves as an assistant coach to his father Lou at South Carolina. “First of all, it was the area I was born in when my father was working here and my children were raised here. It was also my first head coaching job. I remember Memorial Stadium being a very exciting and intimate place for college football – especially when we made the playoffs in ’98.”

    Perhaps current UConn head coach Randy Edsall, who has been with the Huskies since 1999, sums it all best.

    “Next year when we move to Rentschler Field, it will be exactly what our program needs to compete on the Division I-A level,” says Edsall. “But, Memorial Stadium will always be the home of great memories that allowed UConn football to advance to the level it is at today.”