A History Lesson
As Maryland fans packed RFK Stadium on Dec. 29th, 2010 to see Ralph Friedgen coach his Terps for one last time, the rumors were buzzing. While the Fridgen was on the sidelines watching his Terps take on East Carolina, social media and fans were in a frenzy; potential suitor and former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was on campus. As running back Da’Rel Scott scampered 91 yards to give Maryland a 44-13 lead in the 4th quarter, Terps fans were cheering; not only because they were on the verge of winning their 9th game of the season and sending Friedgen off on a high note, but also at the thought of Mike Leach bringing his spread “Air Raid” offense to College Park. Byrd Stadium would be electric, and Maryland football would be a force to be reckoned with.
On Jan. 2nd, the announcement became official that Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, President Wallace Loh and the Maryland search committee had found their manin former Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall. The announcement stunned many fans and those feelings of shock quickly turned to feelings of disappointment. Many saw this as a lost opportunity for Maryland to become relevant on the national college stage again, and as a failure to make a splash that would put a jolt into a flat program and a frustrated fan base. The move was slammed in all media outlets; analysts met the hire head-on with raised eye brows and suspicion that the athletic director and search committee wanted to be “safe” with the Edsall hire and failed to take the necessary steps to go from “good to great” (Anderson’s most quoted idiom since the hire).
Edsall was already in a hole before he even stepped foot on campus. Despite taking his Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl as the Big East Champions, fans were furious, thinking that Edsall was not an upgrade from Friedgen, but a lateral move at best.
Media Agendas is What the Fans Saw
Edsall’s first year in College Park was a disaster (and that is putting it lightly). Season ticket holders didn’t renew out of frustration, and Edsall was criticized by both mass media and fans at every turn (from him decreasing media access for practices/interviews, to having dress codes, to being lackluster in press conferences, even for removing names off the jerseys). Defensive Coordinator Don Brown, a fan favorite, left the program to be closer to his family and Edsall’s attempt to hire former Miami Hurricane’s head coach Randy Shannon as a replacement failed, leaving him with former Southern Miss DC Todd Bradford.
The season was a catastrophe; a 2-10 (1-7) ACC record, attendance at an all-time low, a public-known feud with starting QB Danny O’Brien, and some 24+ transfers following the 2011 season. This was the makings of every fan’s nightmare, and both the fans and media wanted blood. Radio hosts and “analysts” of the like didn’t care for Edsall. It seemed that he was the cause for everything bad that was happening in College Park. Every article in the newspaper or every radio segment concerning Maryland football made it seem as if the program would never again be mediocre (let alone great) as long as Edsall was in charge.
Edsall’s 2nd season was more of the same; a 4-8 (2-6) ACC record and now the athletic department started losing big money thanks to an apathetic football program, which is traditionally the big money-maker for universities. After two years into his six-year deal, mass media and fans have Edsall on the hot seat. If Edsall doesn’t win this year, it’s time to cut ties and make a bigger hire heading into the BIG Conference.
Two years in, the general consensus surrounding the team is that Randy Edsall is the worst thing to ever happen to Maryland football. This is what has been covered, and this is what the fans have eaten up. Here are the things that the media has failed to publicize and what a lot of fanshave failed to pay attention to:
Edsall’s Stellar Job at UCONN
It was constantly brought up at every possible opportunity; Edsall’s record at UConn was 74-70, the very definition of mediocre. What media outlets don’t seem to realize (and MD fans are guilty of this too) is just how difficult it is taking a Division I-AA school to Division I. Very few schools make the leap from the FCS and succeed. Edsall’s UConn Huskies, however, were the exception. It took only 5 years in Division I-A for Edsall to lead UConn to its first ever bowl game (a 39-10 win over Toledo) and only 8 years for the Huskies to be conference champions (well, co-conference champions with West Virginia). What is more impressive is the fact that UConn was the only school in NCAA history to move from the FCS and appear in a BCS bowl game. In his last four years at UConn, Edsall combined for a 33-19 record with four consecutive bowl appearances.
Bear in mind that Storrs, Connecticut is not exactly a hotbed for football talent, nor is it a desired location for top notch recruits. So, logic should tell you that Edsall is an outstanding talent evaluator. Not only did he take a school from Division I-AA to Division I-A and win, but he did it with recruits who were not ranked very high (some not ranked at all). It should also tell you that he cultivates the talent he brings in. Don’t believe me? Then just look at this year’s NFL Draft, where four UConn players were drafted (three in the first three rounds). Three out of those four players were not even ranked coming out of high school. Edsall and his staff got these players to Storrs, CT, developed their skills, and that steered them into becoming NFL players (for comparison’s sake, Maryland only had one player drafted in the 7th round).
What is even more impressive is what Edsall did for the football program off the field. He got the alumni and fans to buy into his vision of what UConn football could be (crazy, right?). Through their support, he had a brand new stadium built as well as a state of the art indoor practice facility. He did this all while maintaining a very successful graduation percentage for his players. And Maryland fans really wondered why UConn alumni were upset when Edsall left? Maybe it’s due to the fact that Edsall took a UConn football program, a product that was never worth anyone’s time or money, and took them to new heights that no one could have ever envisioned. Since Edsall left, UConn is 10-14, 5-9 in conference.
Rebuilding Broken Relationships
2001-2003 was arguably the most successful stretch for the Maryland football program, and what made it a feel-good story was that the majority of the team was homegrown. So what happened from 2004-2010? Following the 2001 season, you may recall Friedgen making a comment about how the REAL high school talent was in the south; where kids are perceived to be bigger, stronger, faster, and can make an early impact. From 2002 on, Friedgen put more of an emphasis on recruiting southern states like North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. He would offer scholarships to these out-of-state kids based on game film, but wanted local recruits to attend camps before receiving offers. When college head coaches made their rounds at the local high schools, Maryland usually sent an assistant coach. As you can imagine, many high school coaches (players and parents included) were not happy about the efforts made by the Maryland staff to secure in-state/local talent. The rest is well-documented; since 2003 the Terps staff struggled to lock up commitments from local studs, who decided to take their talents elsewhere.
So, what did Randy Edsall do once he was hired? After making a statement in his opening press conference that the DMV was his top priority, he went out and proved it. He held clinics for youth football teams attempting to get young local kids and parents excited about Maryland football again. He went up and down the state of Maryland (including Washington, D.C.) visiting high schools, attempting to repair broken relationships with coaches who felt snubbed by their state school. Did Edsall keep true to his word? And did his hard work pay off? Well, see for yourself:
“I’m a Randy Edsall fan, I’m a Maryland coaching staff fan” Friendship Collegiate Academy head coach Azaar Abdul-Rahim said in an interview with Pete Volk of Testudo Times. In the interview, coach Abdul-Rahim says that he expects the pipeline between Maryland and powerhouse FCA to continue to grow, admitting that his players talk up Maryland more and more. “I always want to be able to guide some kids to quality people, off-the-field quality.”
Abdul-Rahim’s comments are echoed by head coaches at other local powerhouse high schools. “I’ve known Randy for a long time…Randy, to me, is a no nonsense, very honest person, full of integrity” Gilman head coach Biff Poggi said in an interview with Dave Lomonico of Rivals, Terrapin Times. “I believe in him, I believe in what he’s trying to do with the kids as far as helping them become better men, yet educated, all in the frame work of building a top notch program” he says, while also admitting that the relationship between Gilman and Maryland is certainly different than in years past.
It’s no secret that Gilman, a constant producer of football talent in Baltimore, has had a strained relationship with Maryland over the years. In fact, Gilman has sent only one recruit to Maryland over the last two decades (prior to Edsall). Edsall has since received commitments from a Gilman player two consecutive years, going for three this year. It certainly helps when he has full support of a head coach that used to steer kids away from College Park. “I would say to Maryland fans, you got a great coach. And we as a state have a great coach. Our relationship at Gilman is fantastic. We want kids to go to Maryland, which always wasn’t the case. Just give him time. If you give him time, Maryland is going to be a powerhouse.”
DeMatha Catholic High School is a school that certainly needs no introduction. The school has had success sending players to some of the best college football programs in the country, and has even had success sending players down Route One to Maryland. After making a comment that the relationship between DeMatha and Maryland has deteriorated, Coach Elijah Brooks said Edsall came calling. “We’ve put it behind us, and our relationship is outstanding at this point. We’re looking forward to sending many guys to Maryland in the near future” he says in an interview with Jacob Engelke with InsideMDSports. “They’ve also invited us to spring practices and camps this summer. We’ve had several coaches, including Randy, visit the school…so the communication is there. It’s nothing but positive now.”
These are just a few of a long list of high school coaches that share the same sentiment regarding Randy Edsall; “he is a great coach, we’re comfortable sending players to Maryland now, and just give him time.” You hear that Terps fans?
(Local) Recruiting Success
The media certainly focused a ton on the players that transferred out of Maryland (we’ll get to that a little later) but we really didn’t hear much about the talent that Edsall and his staff have brought in. Since rebuilding those damaged relationships with local high school coaches, Edsall has had great recruiting success in spite of his team’s lack of production on the field. In his first recruiting class as head coach, Edsall was able to snag five-star All-American wideout Stefon Diggs over the likes of Florida, Auburn, and Ohio State. That certainly got attention from mass media, but Edsall was also able to get local All-Americans in running back Wes Brown, offensive lineman Mike Madaras, and D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year running back Albert Reid. Speaking of D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year, Edsall also got former recipient signal caller Ricardo Young to transfer to the Terps. Not too bad for your first recruiting class following a 2-10 season.
The following season, Edsall had similar success on the recruiting trails. Fans constantly heard more about Edsall’s on-the-field failures, but neglected yet another stellar recruiting class. This time, following a 4-8 season, Edsall was able to haul in local All-Americans in offensive lineman Derwin Gray, linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, Elite-11 quarterback (and Gilman recruit) Shane Cockerille, and local five-star wide receiver Deon Long, who is the best junior college prospect in the nation.
Since we’re on the subject of recruiting, let’s also take a look at Edsall’s success recruiting a position that plagued Friedgen for years. Since Scott McBrien was the signal caller for the Terps back in 2003, Maryland has seen the likes of Joel Statham, Sam Hollenbach, Jordan Steffy, Chris Turner, and Jamarr Robinson take snaps under center. In two years since Edsall has come aboard, Edsall has received commitments from Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe, Shane Cockerille, transfer Ricardo Young, and has a commitment from 2014 local stud Will Ulmer. Not to mention he has 2015 soon-to-be All-American Kai Locksley seriously considering the Terps as well.
Correcting Mistakes That Were Made
I will admit Edsall did not do himself any favors his first year in College Park. Coming from a place like Storrs, CT, Edsall was not used to the media scrutiny that takes place in theD.C. metropolitan area. As mentioned earlier, he was ridiculed for a variety of reasons. What media and fans didn’t seem to notice (or did, but didn’t care to shed light on) is that Edsall, the stubborn military man who is all about things being done his way, made numerous changes after his first season.
I understand the hiring behind former LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton; it was supposed to be a big splash hire from a big time school, but it didn’t work out. Defensive coordinator Todd Bradford was an even bigger misfortune. But instead of being set in his ways, Edsall made the necessary changes and hired new coordinators. He brought in Brian Stewart, who was a well-known and respected defensive coach with lots of NFL experience.
He also brought Mike Locksley back to the DMV. Realizing he needed to send a shockwave on the local scene with both recruits and coaches, Edsall brought Locksley home, where he is known as a recruiting god. The results have been beneficial for all parties involved. Make no mistake, if Friedgen (or James Franklin) were still in College Park, Locksley would have never come back.
Edsall also loosened up and allowed more media access to both his players and practices. He became more engaging in his interviews, has allowed more fan access to his players, and he even put names back on the jerseys (something he has never done before as a head coach). All of these changes haven’t made much of a difference in the way Edsall is perceived by the public; they made a mockery of his “stern and demanding” ways, but failed to highlight the fact that he is not too stubborn to let errors remain unsettled.
As for his dress code that was the object of ridicule by everyone, other big time schools (including many SEC schools) do the same. Nobody made a huge fuss when Alabama coach Nick Saban changed the rules back in 2007 so that fans entering the stadium blowing a .08% or wearing tank tops/sleeveless shirts will be kicked out of the game. I guess crazy is acceptable only if you win.
It was the talk of every media outlet both local and nationwide; there is a revolt in College Park where kids are transferring out by the second because they simply can’t play for a ruthless coach. Ah yes, you probably remember this very well.
It was true, 24 players transferred out of Maryland following Edsall’s first year at the helm. But the rebellion against evil Edsall was drastically overblown. For one thing, only four starters transferred (quarterback Danny O’Brien, defensive end David Mackall and linemen Max Garcia and RJ Dill). For the other 20 players that packed their belongings, most went to sub-division programs or low tier football programs. Could it be that they didn’t transfer because they couldn’t stand Edsall, but more so they just simply weren’t good enough? For instance, Mackall was very outspoken about his displeasure with Edsall; where did he end up? Delaware. How about TD-machine bowling ball running back D.J. Adams, where did he take his talents? To PSU (that’s Portland State University by the way). And stalwart wideout Adrian Coxson? He went to powerhouse Stony Brook University. O’Brien originally transferred to Wisconsin before ending up at Division II Catawba College in his home state of North Carolina. On the other hand, offensive lineman Max Garcia ended up at Florida. But many of the transfers ended up at far lesser programs than Maryland.
That’s right, these players weren’t transferring to big time football programs; the fact is the talent level was thin. Edsall said as much, which he was hanged for in news articles. Ironically, Mark Turgeon said the same exact thing when he took over as head basketball coach at Maryland; nobody said a word about it.
As for the rest, they transferred because they flunked out of school (sorry media nuts, but Edsall can’t go to class for these kids too). The media blew this up to look like it was all Edsall’s fault, and the fans bought into it. But what was really happening was that Edsall was clearing out the knuckleheads in his locker room. The players that stayed are the ones who bought into the head coach, stayed united, accepted responsibility and went to class. This was probably the biggest difference between Edsall’s first year and second year. Is it just a mere coincidence that his team this past season played harder and was in almost every game? No, it was not a coincidence; Edsall just had a locker room full of guys who were prepared both on and off the field as opposed to players who were ready to mutiny.
The O’Brien Situation
Danny O’Brien was the darling of the ACC in 2010. He won ACC Freshman of the Year and had high hopes going into 2011. There was just one problem; he caught Johnny Manziel Disease before Johnny Manziel was even a senior in high school. It happens every year at almost every school; a player has a great season and goes into next season thinking he is untouchable. You can blame it on a new offensive system, but the fact is that O’Brien was simply not that good in 2011. He struggled completing simple passes and had serious issues with consistency.
According to a source familiar with the situation, Edsall and O’Brien got into a heated argument in front of the locker room following a 38-7 loss at home to Temple. The argument was just the beginning of what would eventually separate the locker room. There was speculation that O’Brien was receiving advice from friends and some outside of the program. O’Brien was eventually benched during the season for C.J. Brown, and O’Brien would later be shut down due to injury. When O’Brien found out he was not going to be named the full-time starter, rather he would have to compete with Brown for the starting quarterback spot, he decided to bail.
When he acknowledged his intentions to transfer, it was believed that Vanderbilt would be the destination. Per transfer rules, a university can restrict where a former player can transfer to (anyone remember when West Virginia pulled that with Deon Long and Maryland?). The media was in an uproar about Edsall restricting O’Brien (and other players mind you, not just O’Brien) from transferring to Vanderbilt (where a former Maryland coach with Maryland ties was running the ship). O’Brien admitted he was still close with his former offensive coordinator and current Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, and that they talked frequently.
Franklin later denied tampering allegations with O’Brien, stating that he did not have improper contact. Maryland would eventually file an official complaint against Franklin and Vanderbilt (media outlets laughed at Edsall, but did not mention the complaints filed against Franklin by other schools as well). Edsall later reconsidered, saying he just wants what’s best for the players. In the end, all the uproar was for nothing. And as for O’Brien, the incredible signal caller that Edsall ruined and was going to do wonders at Wisconsin? Well, O’Brien was beat out by a true freshman after just three games, transferred out of Wisconsin, and is now the starting quarterback for Division-II Catawba. Perhaps we can chalk O’Brien up as another player that just wasn’t good enough, or a player who was set in his ways with how the previous regime ran things and was not ready to put in the necessary work. Or perhaps it was just easier for him to do his job when you had the likes of wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Da’Rel Scott. O’Brien could still have been the starter for Maryland, but he did not want to compete for the starting job. Sorry, but he gets no sympathy from me, nor should he from you.
The Fridge’s State of Affairs
This is a very touchy subject for Maryland fans who hold a special place in their heart for Ralph Friedgen. I was a huge fan and supporter of Fridgen, who showed that Maryland has the makeup to be a consistent top 10-15 team year in and year out. But you’d be lying to yourself if you said that over Friedgen’s last seven years at Maryland, the football program hadn’t become stale. Since 2003 (Maryland’s last season of college football relevancy) Friedgen went 44-42, 24-32 ACC.
Friedgen supporters were outraged that Fridge was let go following a 9-4 season in which he won ACC Coach of the Year. Keep in mind that I’m a huge Friedgen fan, but let me refresh your memory a little about that 9-4 season:
The previous season Fridge’s team went 2-10, the worst season in Maryland football history. Many wanted him fired then, and it would’ve been justified. He wasn’t fired, and Terps went on to have a nine win season. Let’s take a look at those nine victories shall we:
- Morgan State
- Florida International
- Boston College
- Wake Forest
- N.C. State
- East Carolina
Now, does any one of those victories stand out to you? Me neither. But nevertheless nine wins is a great season, especially coming off of the previous year. But instead of being content, Friedgen’s attorney went to the press essentially demanding a contract extension from new Athletic Director Kevin Anderson. Completely ignoring the fact that Fridgen recently went 2-10 AND James Franklin was named “head coach in waiting” Friedgen’s attorney continued to say how Fridge didn’t want to retire, was forced to agree upon Franklin being named as his successor and that he earned an extension. Seeing the writing on the wall, Franklin walked.
People blame Anderson for treating Fridge unfairly, but what was he supposed to do? Keep him for one more year while the rest of the college coaches tell recruits “why would you go to Maryland? You don’t even know who their head coach will be after Friedgen?” There was no possible way Maryland would have been successful recruiting, so Anderson’s hands were tied and he had to make a move.
Sure, Friedgen took the Terps to four bowl games in his final five years, but those bowl games were the Champs Sports Bowl, the Emerald Bowl, the Humanitarian Bowl, and the Military Bowl. If you want to discuss the definition of mediocre, there it is. After 10 years of Friedgen, Maryland fans lost sense of the difference between success and being content. Are four low tier bowl games in five years considered good?
Don’t get me wrong, Friedgen was a huge part of Maryland’s early success, but let’s not sugarcoat anything here. His record after the players he inherited from former head coach Ron Vanderlinden left is pedestrian, fan attendance was dwindling well before Edsall came to College Park, and player’s performance both on and off the field were suffering. Call me crazy, but mediocrity does not warrant empathy (or an extension for that matter).
A factor that gets lost in the sports world is the side fans don’t get to see: academics. While high school relationships, recruiting efforts, and on-field production suffered, so did the players’ efforts in the classroom. Academic Progress Rates (APR) for Maryland football were low, decreasing each year for five straight years. They were towards the bottom of the ACC in graduation rates, and in Randy Edsall’s first year as head coach, his team was docked practice time and scholarships thanks to Friedgen.
It was hardly discussed, but Randy Edsall put a lot of effort into his payer’s studies. It took only one year for the team APR to jump up 67 points (from 905 in 2010 to 972 in 2011 – the cutoff for acceptable APR is 925). Because the APR score is cumulative, it still counts Friedgen’s later years, bringing the score down a little. But in Edsall’s two years, the Terps APR score has increased, with signs pointing to better graduation rates in future years. This may not exactly lead to W’s, but it’s nice to see a coach who puts an emphasis on his players having an education. And yes, parents and high school coaches pay attention to these numbers as well.
Enhancing Relationship with Under Armour
Ralph Friedgen may have been the first to have Kevin Plank and Under Armour fit his team with new uniforms, but Edsall has basically told Plank and his team of designers to use his team as guinea pigs. Similar to what Nike did for Oregon, Under Armour will continue to churn out off-the-wall uniforms for Maryland to wear on game days. It worked for Oregon, and it is starting to work for the Terps as well.
Case in point, every recruit who comes to campus tries on the uniforms, and they are a big hit with the kids. Whether you love them or hate them as fans, it certainly helps for the university’s exposure when radio shows and sports programs do segments on your jerseys alone. When Florida State trounced Maryland in College Park last season, the recruits weren’t discussing the final score; instead they were talking about the Black Ops uniforms, completely overlooking the game’s final outcome. Same was the case for the White Ops jerseys the Terps busted out for the West Virginia game. These jerseys are the kinds of things give your program exposure and publicity, and it certainly doesn’t hurt when every 17- and 18-year old that comes through campus can’t stop talking about them.
Randy Edsall has a plan, and we’re starting to see it come to fruition. Maryland Pride was a slogan Edsall coined when he first came to Maryland, and local coaches, recruits and parents are buying into it. The vision that Edsall has is the same vision that Howard Schnellenberger used at the University of Miami in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and that is “have pride in your state, and turn your state school into a powerhouse.” Stefon Diggs said it best right before he committed to the Terps; “I wanna win championships, I wanna win bowl games, and what better place to do it than in your city?” Edsall realizes that there is enough talent in the DMV to win games, bowl games, and championships. Edsall said that he wants to put a fence around the DMV, and wouldn’t you know it, it is the same exact thing Schnellenberger said right before he got the local recruits to join him at The U and turned the school into a powerhouse. The ESPN 30 for 30 about the Miami program proves that Edsall’s plan can work, and if he has success on the field, it will work.
Before Edsall took over the Maryland football program, the Terps were one of the cheapest teams in terms of spending on their football program in the ACC. Thanks in part to former Athletic Director Debbie Yow’s reckless spending and taking money out of revenue sports and putting them into non-revenue sports (just so she can earn bonuses for winning championships in competitive cheer and field hockey…but I digress), Maryland was at the bottom of the ACC in assistant coaches salaries, expenses, etc. This is what happens when your football program becomes stale and your head coach is at odds with the athletic director.
That is not the case with Edsall and Anderson. Anderson fully supports Edsall and his passion for Maryland football and having the best interests of his players. Anderson has not been shy about spending either, as Maryland is now middle of the pack of the ACC in coaches’ salaries. Let’s not forget the brand new cooling field turf (the first of its kind) at Byrd Stadium and the indoor practice facility that is on its way (believe me, it’s going to be glorious). The Athletic Director is putting money back into what creates money for the university, and that is how it should be. Maryland will no longer be at the bottom of the ACC (soon to be BIG Conference) because this Athletic Director believes in what the coach is trying to do. This will do wonders for the football program’s future with facility upgrades and keeping coaches around longer.
It’s Time to Get Behind Your Coach
Randy Edsall may not have the support of the local media, or the fan base for that matter (you can tell by the attendance on game day). But what Coach Edsall does have is the support of the Athletic Director, the local high school coaches who hold the talent fans crave, the parents who trust him to look after their kids, and the players that play for him on Saturdays. That is a recipe for success; that is a formula that will turn Maryland football into a legitimate force in college football.
The last (and most important) piece of the puzzle is wins, and don’t get me wrong, Edsall does need to start producing more on the field. But let’s not forget that this team was a missed field goal away from being 5-2, 3-0 ACC with a true freshman quarterback with first time coordinators last season. This team competed and played hard for their coach last season, and if Armageddon didn’t rain down upon their quarterbacks last year, things might have been different (bowl game, more recruits, exposure, more fan support, etc). The team is better this year, and a winning season is more realistic than it’s been in quite some time. It may not be much longer before teams and opposing fans fear the turtle, but fans need to start supporting their coach and this teamright now. Otherwise, this program may never get to see the magnificent rewards that await.