ACC Week: One Big Question for Maryland, Is Randy Edsall In Too Deep?


No-win situation accurately describes what Randy Edsall stepped into as head coach at Maryland.

Circumstances of the coaching change at Maryland in December 2010/January 2011 were peculiar. Ralph Friedgen was coming off an eight-win regular season, his second in as many seasons. The Terrapins’ appearance in the Military Bowl marked their fourth postseason in five years. Nevertheless, Kevin Anderson marked the beginning of his tenure as UM athletic director with a bang, relieving Friedgen before the bowl game.

A primary gripe about Friedgen was that while consistent, he could not get Maryland through the glass ceiling into college football’s elite despite coming close twice. Mere consistency would no longer suffice, was the message being sent. And that’s what made the Edsall hire surprising.

The typical message board chatter and unsourced innuendo making the rounds suggested names perhaps sexier than Edsall’s, most notably Mike Leach. Leach’s connection to Under Armour at Texas Tech made Maryland look like a no-brainer. Edsall is the antithesis of Leach. His Connecticut teams largely succeeded on hard-nosed defense and a ground-based offensive approach, and his buttoned down style starkly contrasts the pirate banter Leach is known for.

Edsall was the model of straight-and-narrow at UConn, right down to the Huskies’ won-lost record. He nurtured the program from Division I-AA roots to a steady BCS conference team that typically finished in the postseason, but rarely made a splash. In many ways, what Edsall accomplished at Connecticut mirrored Friedgen’s work at Maryland. Fridge took over a program in dire straits, and molded a consistent if not flashy team.

So why make the switch?

It’s a question asked not as an indictment of Edsall, but that it exists casts a cloud over his tenure. The coming season is an important one for Edsall, with UM coming off an abysmal 2-10 finish. The Terps lost 10 straight against FBS opponents, most notably coughing up a 27-point, second half lead in the finale at NC State.

Used to be, coaches were afforded four or five years to restructure a program. But as monetary possibilities grow exponentially and fan bases/boosters become less patient, leashes are tightened. Kansas let Turner Gill go after only two seasons.

Gill didn’t struggle with the same restlessness between seasons that Edsall’s facing, either. Twelve transferred before the 2011 season, a typical exodus to be expected amid a coaching change. However, the 13 departures since the season are more troublesome. In particular, the loss of 2010 Freshman All-American Danny O’Brien drew negative attention.

O’Brien simply did not fit offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s scheme. It became evident almost immediately, in Maryland’s Week 1 defeat of Miami. After moving the ball effortlessly on the first drive, the Terrapins sputtered in the screen-heavy system. Back-up C.J. Brown would quickly replace O’Brien, Brown an elusive runner more suited to a shotgun spread offense.

With O’Brien gone for Wisconsin, Brown is firmly ensconced as starting quarterback. Adding to the oddity of the situation though is that Crowton left to become offensive coordinator of the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a move that would have to be considered a downgrade. Mike Locksley’s back at UM in the role, bringing his reputation for recruiting high level talent. Locksley had a disastrous turn as head coach at New Mexico, but made his impact at UM felt immediately with the signing of five star recruit Stefon Diggs.

In the win-now culture that exists at the BCS conference level though, allow those seeds to bear fruit is not a process Edsall and Co. can bank on. Improvement in 2012 is critical.