Editor’s Note: This is Part II of Art Ferrer’s #3 What If scenario. For Part I, click here.
What If Maryland Hires Mike Leach Instead Of Randy Edsall?
The final possible scenario for the 2010 Maryland football coaching saga leaves us with swapping Randy Edsall for Mike Leach. James Franklin accepts the head coaching position at Vanderbilt, Kevin Anderson fires Ralph Friedgen, except instead of hiring Randy Edsall he goes with Mike Leach. Kevin Anderson took a hit with the fans for firing Ralph Friedgen, but then in many people’s eyes he compounded that mistake by not swinging for the fences with Mike Leach. The fans had a valid point: Maryland football needed an overhaul and someone to excite the masses, and to do so the athletic department needed to swing for the fences.
Former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach was seen as the favorite for the Maryland job even before Ralph Friedgen was officially relieved of his duties. In articles about the firing of Friedgen, Leach was the only possible candidate mentioned. It seemed to be a forgone conclusion from an outsiders perspective that Mike Leach would be Maryland’s next football coach, but that the athletic department just had to go through the process to appease everyone involved.
Once Mike Leach is formally announced as head coach of the Maryland football team, the phone lines begin lighting up at the Maryland ticketing office. His high power offense was known for putting up a lot of points and generating a lot of big plays. These are ideal selling points for anyone on the fence about buying tickets. Leach would have instantly generated a buzz about Maryland football on campus that had been lacking for several years. Attendance would have sparked at Byrd Stadium, and nationally there would be coverage of Maryland given how controversial Leach tends to be. The end of Leach’s era in Texas Tech wasn’t great, and part of that would be the reason why Maryland would be picking up national attention. But if Maryland is winning games, filling Byrd, and Leach is staying out of trouble, then all of that attention is just more firepower on the recruiting trail.
With a fan base behind him, a new marketing campaign from Under Armor, and a high powered spread offense, Leach would have a lot to sell to recruits. While at Texas Tech, Mike Leach was able to get a lot of talented players, and while he would lose the Big 12 appeal, he would gain a large city to recruit out of and to bring players to. Starting off with a successful year at Maryland and avoiding negative publicity, would have even further helped Leach on the recruiting trail. While parents might have doubts about his past (and rightfully so), being in a large market with a lot of attention drawn would help quell some of those fears. Not to say that what he did to his players can’t happen again, but with a larger media base tracking his every move, it would have been tougher to get away with anything, and that would hopefully deter him.
Whenever a new coach takes over a program, there are always players who transfer out. A new coach brings new expectations of the student-athletes, new systems, and new coaches; it doesn’t always mix with every player. Randy Edsall experienced a mass exodus from College Park when he first took over, and to an extent Leach would have experienced it as well. However, given Leach’s track record of success and the excitement around the program, he would have maintained more players. Last season, Maryland was playing with mostly freshman and sophomores; with Mike Leach it would have been mainly juniors and seniors. Given how Maryland’s first two seasons have gone under Coach Edsall, it safe to say that with Mike Leach coaching, they would have been better.
Long term under Mike Leach? I think Maryland would be in good hands. If Leach turns around his reputation and is winning games, the excitement would stay with the program for years to come. With the right staff to help Leach get his foot in the door locally, he would have been building a foundation for long term success. Would Maryland reach the same level of Alabama? No, but the football program wouldn’t be viewed as the laughingstock of the Big Ten.
Maryland’s move to the Big Ten was fueled by money. The struggles of the football and basketball to generate more money, and the overspending of the previous athletic director, left the school with little options. But had Mike Leach become head coach, the move to the Big Ten might not have happened. Leach’s instant buzz would have had more suites and season tickets sold before the team ever stepped foot on the field. Two winning seasons, and two middle tier bowls later, and the athletic department would be looking at a more balanced budget. Coach Turgeon has picked up many more followers from his first year to his second, and it should be growing heading into his third season. Kevin Anderson might have been able to hold off on making the money move to the Big Ten, with both of his new coaches bringing in additional revenue early in their career at Maryland.
Regardless of what happened, Maryland avoided the worst case scenario of maintaining Coach Ralph Friedgen. Fans and the athletic department knew what they were getting with him, and long term the program would be in a worse situation. Unfortunately, Kevin Anderson may have botched the two best case scenarios. Maintaining James Franklin or bringing in Mike Leach were the two best available options, and the Terps got neither. Franklin’s familiarity with the program, fan base, and area would have been the most ideal situation. There would be less turnover, and to the outside viewers, Maryland would look better for having honored their agreement with Franklin.
Hiring Leach would have come with some media backlash, and some hesitation from families and outside observers. As I noted, if Leach stays out of trouble his first year and wins games, then all of that goes out the window. Leach would have more brought more immediate buzz around the program, season tickets and suites would have been selling themselves.
Kevin Anderson’s indecision about Friedgen probably cost him James Franklin. Maryland’s future was uncertain, and Vanderbilt was there for Franklin, he made the best career decision for himself. No one can blame Franklin for how things happened in 2010. Faced with the decision to be bold or to be safe, Kevin Anderson and the University elected to play it safe and hired Randy Edsall.
While the future looks bright for Maryland, there was still an opportunity missed to make a splash and instantly get people on board. Edsall’s first two years have been rough at Maryland, and heading into year three, Edsall has a lot to prove. Yet with a strong cast of student-athletes, he looks to have the ground work laid for a solid season. But one can’t help but wonder what our expectations would be for year three of Franklin or Leach.