Orange Watch: Ex-Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni back in NFL

Paul Pasqualoni
Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni speaks to reporters at the team's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. on June 1, 2022. Credit: Carolina Panthers.

Item: As Syracuse and Connecticut are set to face off Saturday night in East Hartford (7:00 p.m. ET / CBS Sports Network), it’s the perfect time to spotlight the only man to coach both programs, ironically during the same week that he gets back to work coaching in the NFL regular season. Coach P is the winningest coach in Big East history, after guiding Syracuse to three 10-win seasons and nine bowl games during an illustrious run between 1991-2004, later followed by a not-so-successful 28-game stint (10-18) as UConn coach between 2011-13. Back in the NFL for the first time since 2019, Pasqualoni is preparing his Carolina Panthers defensive line unit for its season opener Sunday hosting the Cleveland Browns.

Having just turned age 73 on August 16, and arriving in Charlotte seven months ago, Paul Pasqualoni couldn’t be happier still doing what he loves best (aside from his family). Coaching football.

Pasqualoni finished up a two-year stint at Florida following the 2021 season, serving as a coach whisperer, if you will, to Dan Mullen, a former graduate assistant on his 1998 SU coaching staff.

“I’ve had the good fortune to be able to go back to work for guys who have worked for me,” Pasqualoni explained during a summer press conference with media covering the Panthers. “Went back to Connecticut, COVID had just hit.” (In 2020, after two-years with the Detroit Lions under another former Syracuse grad assistant Matt Patricia.)

“Danny Mullen had worked for me at Syracuse, so he called me and asked if I would go down to the Florida Gators to be a special assistant to the head coach.”

In the impatient SEC, a 5-6 finish (6-7 total) in Mullen’s fourth season with the Gators, even following consecutive Peach, Orange, and Cotton bowl appearances, cost him his job. Even though new UF coach Billy Napier offered to retain him in the same advanced mentoring role, Pasqualoni was instead thinking about what he wanted next in his professional life.

Paul Pasqualoni, after an inconspicuous playing career as a Penn State linebacker, began his fabled coaching career 50 years ago (1972) as an assistant at Cheshire High School in his Connecticut hometown.

He was then hired by George DeLeone to join the staff at Central Connecticut State in 1976, eventually becoming the head coach at Western Connecticut State for five years before joining DeLeone on Dick MacPherson’s ‘Cuse staff for the magical 1987 season.

After being dismissed by chancellor Nancy Cantor and new AD Daryl Gross in December 2004, Bill Parcells brought Pasqualoni to the Dallas Cowboys, followed by NFL jobs in Miami, Dallas again, Chicago and Houston, sandwiched around coaching at UConn and Boston College, where he served under Steve Addazio yet another former protégé and one-time Syracuse assistant.

Fast forward to last winter. While mulling Napier’s invitation to stay put in Gainesville, Matt Rhule, Carolina’s third-year head coach, got in touch.

Pasqualoni had gotten to know Rhule while both were coaching in the Big East at UConn and Temple, respectively, and during the period when Rhule had hired longtime close friend DeLeone to his Owls staff.

DeLeone followed Rhule to Baylor in 2017, before Rhule jumped to the Carolina job in 2020, and DeLeone, battling cancer, sadly passed away (also at age 73) this past March 1 after his own coaching career spanning 50 seasons.

» Related: Former SU DL Marona says Syracuse football’s win over Louisville ‘sets the tone’ for 2022

The DeLeone connection to Rhule made Pasqualoni’s decision all the easier. Now he can develop a veteran but still young group of DL talent with edge rushers Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matose, and tackles Matt Ioannidis and Derrick Brown who average four years of NFL experience.

“I got into it (coaching) to be a teacher,” Pasqualoni told the Panthers media members. “So, when this opportunity came to get back on the field, and have your own group and coach hands-on as a position coach, it was just something that I couldn’t pass up because I’ve done it for so long.”

What’s the secret to Pasqualoni’s longevity and quest to teach football?

“He’s doesn’t have time to grow old,” former SU athletic director Jake Crouthamel joked in 2011 to the CT Post. “He’s too busy doing football.”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.