Symbol of Growth?

Thursday was a day for change at Connecticut. Lots of change.

STORRS, Conn. – Back in 1935, no one had ever heard of the Big East Conference, intercollegiate athletics had not become a big business, and the agricultural school in Storrs wasn't concerned about logos, branding or a visual identity program.

But Connecticut State (that was UConn's name in those days) did introduce a mascot to its student body. Two pages of the 1935 Nutmeg yearbook were devoted to the playful Husky dog named Jonathan.

"Jonathan I, a new matriculant at the college, the ingratiating rascal whose big feet cocked ears, and warm-hearted puppy body adorn this – The College Mascot," the Nutmeg proclaimed.

Poor Jonathan I was hit by a car after attending just a few sporting events. He was buried in a coffin as student body president George Potterton spoke these words: "He was a symbol of the new growth towards which our college is beginning to turn."

The college in Storrs continues to turn. Symbols come and symbols go. It's 2013 now and it seems ingratiating rascals with puppy bodies are no longer in vogue.

UConn's new identity is determined, fierce, athletic, tough and powerful.

That became official Thursday at Gampel Pavilion. Just last week, the new Nike-designed logo for the athletic department was leaked to the public when the image showed up on a T-shirt somewhere. The rest of the school's brand identity launch took place Thursday with athletic director Warde Manuel holding a press conference to explain the process that began with preliminary conversations in July 2011 but was set in motion in March 2012.

Then the launch moved to the basketball arena where UConn athletes sauntered and spun across a short runway, modeling new uniforms complete with the new "UCONN" mark and the logo that many fans are criticizing for its "wolf-like" appearance.

Despite an outcry against the logo change on message boards and social media, there were no protests at the public portion of the show. No negative signs or boos. Just the UConn pep band playing the fight song, athletic department officials dressed in new threads, and athletes and their friends cheering the fashion show.

Photo: Steve Slade, UConn Athletics

"I've gotten a lot of great e-mails about not changing," Manuel said. "It's understandable, it really is. This is a process we went through. This is the outcome we have. This is loved by some and not loved by some. Our hope is that our fans will adjust and begin to love what they see."

Kyle Muncy, UConn's assistant AD for licensing and branding, offered the thought that, "Change isn't easy."

But Manuel, using a power-point demonstration to trace the process, said UConn coaches and athletes didn't resist change because they viewed the Husky logo of the past 20 years or more as, "too happy, puppy, cartoonish, and tired with tongue hanging out" – just some of the traits that made Jonathan I so lovable in 1935. Manuel said the motives driving this change were twofold: consistency of the brand and looking to the future.

UConn slide show: "Too happy, puppy cartoonish, tired"

"[Contrary] to some of the comments out there in the public, we are not changing ourselves," he said. "We're going to be the Huskies. We're going to remain the Huskies. We're going to forever be the Huskies. This was about our visual identity – nothing else. We have been all over the place in terms of how we represented ourselves.

"This is not about merchandising. This is not about us trying to change to make more money. This is to make sure our identity is clear. . . . It becomes important for us in representing who we are. So [Nike] set out to make it concise and iconic."

Manuel responded to the critics of the new logo, especially those who insist the traditional image of the Husky was stripped away.

"People made comments to me that [the former logo] is not a representation of a Husky," Manuel said. "This is actually a Samoyed dog. It's different from the original Siberian Husky that we were named after. When people named us the Huskies, in our history and research, it was after a Siberian Husky. . . . Nike set out to unify our look and, in the process, came the conversation about our logo."

Manuel showed a picture of a Siberian Husky and said that had been the inspiration – not a wolf.

"It is not anything but this image of this Siberian Husky who is full bore, going straight at it, looking happy because he's about to get after something in the process," Manuel said. "This is the inspirational image that Nike used to create the new logo."

Manuel said reaction from UConn's coaches and athletes has been "overwhelmingly positive." Basketball coaches Geno Auriemma and Kevin Ollie spoke at the Gampel ceremony and said they are glad there is a unified logo, one look that will identify all teams from UConn. Ollie said change is "needed at all times."

"I never thought about [ the old logo]," said Stefanie Dolson of the women's basketball. "But we all really like [the new]. Change is going to happen. I think this dog represents more of what we are, how much of a fighter and how intimidating we are. I love the fact it's for everyone."

The only old mark retained was the block "C" on the caps for the baseball team. Muncy said 75 Division I baseball programs were studied and the findings showed that most baseball teams do not use the primary logo on their caps. And the UConn "C" has been used through four baseball coaches over the past 60 years.

By Thursday night, the new football helmets were garnering the most attention. The new Husky logo is feature in the middle of the helmet with the dog's eyes pointed forward. The words UConn Huskies are on the back of the helmet but there is no logo on the side.

Lyle McCombs

"The last Husky was a little approachable dog," tailback Lyle McCombs said. "This dog is a little meaner and more aggressive. It's a good look. All business. I like it. The helmet was what caught my eye the most. It brings a good look to the helmet. I like how the eyes are right in front, looking at the opponent. Hopefully the intimidation factor will help me pick up a few yards."

Manuel insisted the process was not a revenue-generating scheme.

"This was done in a relationship with Nike at no additional cost, meaning we didn't have to pay Nike to come in and do this exercise," he said. "There are going to be some costs to make changes, but those costs are already consistent with much of what we do on a yearly basis.

"The majority of our student-athletes wanted to see something that they felt represented the way they are – and not the old logo. But it wasn't done because we want to sell more product. The bottom line is we also love our history and the old logo. Nobody is saying we don't like it or we're doing away with everything, or we're never going to show a picture of it."

Pressed further on the merchandising issue, Manuel said there was no change in the Nike contract with UConn, no bonus, no payment and it was "not a part of keeping us with them or incentivizing."

The new logo does not change the issue between UConn and The Morgan School in Clinton. That school's mascot is the Huskies and it had to change its logo because it was too similar to the old UConn mark. Muncy said Morgan still will not be able use the old logo because of trademark and licensing law.

"The marks and the logos are the intellectual property of the University of Connecticut," Muncy said. "The school spent thousands of dollars over the course of years and years to trademark and copyright those. They are ours forever. We cannot allow anyone to use them."

That's why any of UConn's old logos could still be seen from time to time as the school produces vintage merchandise.

"We're not running away from our history," Manuel said.

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