AMHERST, Mass. - The idea of ‚Äúnext man up‚ÄĚ in sports is typically associated with players.
The players on the UConn football team are no strangers to that ideology.
But that idea has also applied to Huskies coaches as well in recent weeks.
For the third time this season, UConn had a different head coach during Saturday‚Äôs 27-13 loss to UMass at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. This time, it was defensive line coach Dennis Dottin-Carter filling in for interim head coach Lou Spanos.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs what was ingrained in me the first time I stepped on a field. That‚Äôs what the game of football is. It‚Äôs always the next man up mentality,‚ÄĚ Dottin-Carter, who‚Äôs in his fifth year with the team, said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs how this program is. It‚Äôs the next man up. So if a guy goes down on the field, it‚Äôs the next man up. If a coach goes down, it‚Äôs the next man up.‚ÄĚ
Spanos missed Saturday‚Äôs game after testing positive for COVID-19, the school announced Friday.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs unfortunate and unexpected obviously,‚ÄĚ Dottin-Carter said. ‚ÄúBut the guys prepared like they didn‚Äôt miss a beat. They prepared like everything was on track.‚ÄĚ
Spanos was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2021 season when former head coach Randy Edsall stepped down on Sept. 5 after two games.
He was one of five members of the program to test positive, joining offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Frank Giufre, tight ends coach Corey Edsall, senior left tackle Ryan Van Demark, and freshman offensive lineman Will Meyer.
‚ÄúThe funny thing is, I get the call and I‚Äôm thinking ‚ÄėWhat happened? Is something wrong?‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Dottin-Carter said. ‚ÄúJust like we tell these guys, you‚Äôre always one play away from going in the game. As coaches, we‚Äôre one play away as well. You never know what could happen with COVID. We‚Äôre all human, so you just never know.‚ÄĚ
Saturday wasn‚Äôt the first time that Dottin-Carter has been called in as an emergency head coach during his career, however. While at Delaware, he was the Blue Hens‚Äô interim head coach for the final five games of the 2016 season. The team went 2-3.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a whirlwind, but you just have to be able to handle it,‚ÄĚ Dottin-Carter said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a testament to (UConn‚Äôs director of athletics) Dave Benedict for having us ready. It‚Äôs a testament to coach Spanos having us ready.‚ÄĚ
Freshman running back Nate Carter, who finished Saturday with a season-high 136 yards on 20 carries, said that having to adjust to another head coach - even if for only one game - has been a challenge.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been through a lot of adversity,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúI think the big thing for us is just staying together as a team. A lot of things get thrown at us, especially with this year in general.‚ÄĚ
Carter said that the preparations for Saturday‚Äôs game didn‚Äôt change once Dottin-Carter stepped in.
‚ÄúCoach Dot came in here and he knows that next man up mentality,‚ÄĚ Carter said. ‚ÄúHe did a great job filling in for coach Spanos.‚ÄĚ
Dottin-Carter had been ‚Äúconstantly‚ÄĚ communicating with Spanos since his isolation period began.
‚ÄúHe wants to make sure that everything is going right because he can‚Äôt be here,‚ÄĚ Dottin-Carter said. ‚ÄúSo the guys talked to him, and he talked to the coaches. We just have to go out there and compete..‚ÄĚ
The Huskies did just that in the first half. After allowing a touchdown on the first UMass drive, UConn forced five consecutive punts. The Minutemen missed a field goal as time expired in the half to keep the Huskies up 10-7 entering the locker room.
But the hosts rallied in the second half, tying the game at 10 on Cameron Carson‚Äôs 21-yard field goal in the third and scoring what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on Ellis Merriweather‚Äôs one-yard run early in the fourth.
The Minutemen finished with a 407-291 advantage in total-yardage.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a lot of good things that we did do today, and there‚Äôs a lot of bad things that we did today,‚ÄĚ Carter said. ‚ÄúWhat we need to focus on is coming in tomorrow, watch the film, critique everybody and understand what we need to do for the next game against Yale.‚ÄĚ
The Huskies welcome the Bulldogs to Pratt & Whitney Stadium Saturday at noon (CBS Sports Network).
When asked when Spanos will be able to return to the sideline, Dottin-Carter said he wasn‚Äôt sure, adding that he‚Äôll be the team‚Äôs interim interim head coach ‚Äúuntil further notice.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúRight now, we‚Äôre going to go through the protocol and I‚Äôll let the doctors tell me that,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll play the next play on the next day.‚ÄĚ
Dottin-Carter knows the entire staff can do more.
‚ÄúWe as coaches have to do a better job of putting these guys in positions to be successful too,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI mean that‚Äôs what it comes down to. You practice the fundamentals, you practice the techniques during the week, and that‚Äôs why we gameplan. I‚Äôm not saying our coaches did a bad job, but that‚Äôs our job. We didn‚Äôt win the game, so we have to find a better way to put these guys in position to win the game.‚ÄĚ