On Randy Edsall and the Future of Maryland Football

Randy Edsall will be the Maryland Terrapins' head football coach for at least three years, and quite probably four. At a minimum.

The simple economics of the issue dictate that much. Edsall's contract is on the book for five more seasons after this one, and he's getting $2 million a year. With Maryland's current financial mess, they'd struggle to buy out the final year of his deal, let alone six or eight million bucks. Edsall could be at the helm of 3-9 seasons from here to eternity and it wouldn't change that unfortunate fact.

Which is one big reason why the recent and sizable "Fire Edsall" movement within Maryland's fan base is a little silly: it might be a worthy cause, but it's doomed. Even if Kevin Anderson wanted to get rid of him, there's nothing he could do. So let's just nip that in the bud right now.

The other big reason it's a little silly: even acknowledging the dozens of negative omens within Maryland's program right now, it's premature to bring out the lynch mob on a coach after eight games. Coaching college football is a complex enough process for me to feel a bit hesitant about writing off such a big position on the factual basis of essentially two poor showings. Even with those two showings being as horrible, awful, and indefensible as they were, that's a pretty quick trigger finger.

It's true that the primary "wait it out" argument is, well, that you have to wait it out to get a truly accurate reading on any coach, which is depressing and only sometimes true. But I do think there are a few very valid caveats to Edsall's seemingly awful performance this year that deserve some time.

Before you start to think I'm an Edsall apologist, I should say that I'm definitely not, and we'll get to that later. But that doesn't mean I'm simply willing to ignore that the situation wasn't as rosy as a lot of people have made out. To wit: His defensive coordinator left after signing day, leaving him little in the way of replacement options. His wide receivers are inexperienced, inconsistent, and probably failed to even catch a cold in the rain and snow last Saturday. Two of his team captains, Andrew Gonnella and Kenny Tate, have suffered season-ending injuries. Similarly, injuries ravaged the defense early, and for most of the first six games at least five or six starters were out. He's short three scholarships thanks to the program's punishment at the hands of the NCAA. He saw a gigantic exodus of depth in the offseason, forcing him into using the youngest team in the conference and starting a 17-year-old former two star at linebacker. To top it all off, he's trying to install new schemes on both sides of the ball despite missing two-and-a-half hours of practice a week, again thanks to NCAA regs.

He wasn't walking into a Kansas or Duke, to be sure, but the job ended up being considerably less loaded than many made it out to be early on - including me - when people were calling for an easy 8 or 10 wins. Sure, a great coach probably figures out a way make up for some of that; adjusting the scheme to the talent already in place would've helped, and it might've been nice to try to keep around as much depth as possible instead of seemingly letting everyone walk. But his failure to do that doesn't necessarily make him a bad coach, so much as it just shows that he isn't a great one.

And there have still been little glimpses of potential that have flickered through. As Dave tweeted during the game on Saturday, the line between 9-4 and 2-10 can be surprisingly thin, and the Terps have been consistently just on the wrong side of it all year long. They were two or three plays away from beating a ranked, then-undefeated West Virginia. They were two or three plays away from beating a ranked, then-undefeated Georgia Tech. They were two or three plays away from beating a ranked, then-undefeated Clemson. A few luckier bounces or slightly tighter execution - a dropped interception here, a missed tackle there - and Maryland might pull those out, which of course changes the message, the focus, and the motivation for the duds against Temple and Boston College.

(In fact, I have a strange amount of hope for next year. This team loses a grand total of three starters to graduation off the current depth chart, and the 19 returning starters would probably be among the highest in the country. Even better, only six come off the two-deep at all, including those three starters. Throw in a bit of luck and hopefully a reinvigoration of talent, and there should be a fairly substantial turnaround.) 

But this post has two points, so follow along closely. The first was what I've already said: it's too early to write him off. The second: that doesn't mean he's not well on the way to getting to that point. Even though I think next year could see a slight revival, I've seen enough to be suitably frustrated at Edsall's display so far and dismayed at the long-term future and direction of the program.

First of all, let's look at the most obvious problem: even with all of those impediments laid out above, Maryland still should've been able to beat Temple and Boston College, probably pretty easily. Temple has since lost to Toledo and Bowling Green, while BC hadn't beaten an entire FBS opponent all year (not even Duke). Maryland certainly had enough talent to win both of those games, and that they not only failed to win but failed to even put up a fight indicates that Edsall either can't motivate his team or can't prepare them. No one should complain about losing to WVU, GT, Clemson, or FSU, all of which had more talent than Edsall's bunch; it's the 2-2 record in games the Terrapins should've won that's so worrisome. It's easy to be ready to go against a top-10 team on Homecoming (ie, Clemson), but it's the games like this that show you how much command a coach has of his team. And it would appear the answer here is "not much."

Again, that 2-2 record and the 2-6 overall record are the only pieces of hard, objective evidence this early on, and it's far from permanently damning. But the subjective issues go much deeper. There are the swirling rumors - which, by the way, are more than just rumors - that he's lost control of the locker room, a shockingly quick downward spiral. Just as importantly, his refusal to even temporarily alter his approach - even when it becomes clear that, at least in the short term, it's to the detriment of the team - reeks of the arrogant, my-way-or-the-highway approach that so many have come to associate with the man and abhor. That type of approach is likely to cause some problems even when he gets his own players in. Likewise, the public passing of the buck has rubbed many the wrong way, me included. It's one thing not to have the talent to compete with FSU and Clemson; it's another to say that to the media.

And I suppose that brings us to actually getting that talent to compete with FSU and Clemson, which Edsall hasn't done. It's clear he's a hard worker on the trail, which is an upgrade over Friedgen's lackadaisical approach and could eventually produce solid results in tandem with the teenage cool-ness of Under Armour. But he's also not a salesman, hasn't assembled a strong recruiting staff, and at least to this point hasn't had positive results. There's only one four-star commitment as it stands now (Mike Madaras), and the current crop isn't in Rivals' top 50 team rankings; for comparison, Maryland has never been outside the top 50 since Rivals started doing the rankings in 2002. They rank the current group as the second-worst in the ACC, ahead of only Wake Forest and behind even Duke.

Luckily, recruiting isn't close to done yet, so there's still time to land some big fish. And Maryland is still technically in the running with a few: Stefon DiggsNoah SpenceEddie GoldmanCyrus Jones, and Ronald Darby are all ostensibly considering the Terps, and all are extremely highly-regarded prospects. But Maryland trails other, bigger programs in each of those races, and let's be honest: how many elites are going to sign up to play in College Park with the current direction of things? If they don't, Edsall's talent complaint won't go away, only this time he'll only be able to blame himself.

One of the reasons for his struggles in recruiting is his inability to put together a strong recruiting staff. The crazy thing, though, is that the staff doesn't appear to be good at much of anything. Edsall is a program CEO type, which means he heavily relies upon making good hires. His apparent failure there is yet another another cause for concern. Gary Crowton (sorry, Crwtn) was on his way out of LSU and has been head-scratch-inducing at best in College Park. Todd Bradford (er, To Brafor) was on his way out of Southern Miss, of all places, and has failed here. Lyndon Johnson's special teams have been among the worst units in the country. Andre Powell was fired by Clemson and hasn't made a serious impact in recruiting. Everyone on the staff past Lee Hull, Greg Gattuso, and Tom Brattan was either entirely unproven or had failed elsewhere. A three-of-nine record isn't too strong, especially when two of those three were retained from the previous staff as opposed to hired from the outside.

And all of that is without mention of the scariest thing in Maryland's program right now: fan support. Maryland has never been a football school, but things haven't been this bad in over a decade. Literally no one showed up for the Boston College game on Saturday, and even diehards have taken to counting the days until basketball season or calling for Edsall's resignation. Just about everyone has become apathetic about Terps football, and those who aren't apathetic are apoplectic.

Maryland made this move to reinvigorate fan support and sell tickets, which remember were at embarrassingly low levels. I'd be surprised if next year's ticket sales reached even 2009 or 2010 levels, and that's a decline that Maryland's athletic department can't literally and figuratively afford. (And it's yet another reason I think the Big Ten is still an attractive option. Notre Dame/Maryland for Big Ten 2012!)

The good news for Edsall is that he'll be around for several more years. So, the big-money question: how do we keep that from being bad news for Maryland's program and fans?

Getting full practice hours back and getting the team back to full strength will certainly make things easier in the near future. There are other fixes, too, starting with the coaching staff. Crowton is almost certain to stick around, but Bradford - who was an emergency hire anyway - and Johnson - who doesn't have a Crowtonian big contract - both can (and probably should) be on the chopping block come the off-season. Replacing them with proven coordinators and/or recruiters - the first names that pop to mind are Randy Shannon, Larry Johnson of 2006 recruiting haul fame, Mike Stoops, Darrell Wilson of Iowa, and maybe Ray Rychleski if he gets fired from the Colts - would go a long way to the stability of the program and getting the fanbase back behind the team.

All in all, the ship has probably sailed on any chance that Edsall is a great coach. Great coaches don't lose control of their locker room after eight games, or take a challenging-yet-promising bunch to 2-6. But I don't think it's sailed on him being a serviceable coach. Look at Mike Gundy's trajectory for an encouraging comparison: he took over at Oklahoma State from Les Miles after they averaged 8 wins a year the previous three seasons. He promptly kicked 11 players off the team and went on to finish his first season at 4-7. Of course, we know where the Cowboys are now.

I'm not saying that Edsall is necessarily Gundy. For sure, a vast, vast majority of coaches who fail their first year fail the rest of their tenure, too. But, should a few right hires be made, there's no reason the next three years need be the abject failure to which so many fans have already assigned them.

To finish up, keep one thing in mind: this isn't Randy Edsall's fault. Edsall is an imperfect coach with certain strengths, who'd be great to rebuild an out-of-control program or turn nothing into something as he did at UConn. He's a disciplinarian with a hard-ass streak, but he's a hard worker and (obviously) very demanding.

It isn't his fault he isn't what Maryland needed. UMD had a window, returning a large part of a 9-win team and possessing a big recruiting tool in Under Armour. It was swing-for-the-fences time, an opportunity to hire a Mike Leach or Gus Malzahn and go for broke. They needed to sell tickets, generate buzz, and capitalize on chance to turn a solid program into a great one. It's a set of tasks for which Edsall is uniquely ill-suited. Everything about him, from his strict rules to his tight control of injury news, excepting his haircut, is anti-buzz, and everyone knew it. It's just who he is.

He was offered a chance to double his salary and move up the career ladder, and he took it. He did what 99% of people in a similar situation would've done. It isn't his fault Kevin Anderson has appeared to pick the wrong tool for the wrong job.

Just because he wasn't the perfect hire, though, doesn't mean he can't find success and keep the ship afloat. Remember that his biggest asset when he was hired was that he had "a high floor", meaning there was a small chance of total failure. Given time, perhaps he avoids it. The jury there is still out, even if all of the fanbase's big dreams have dissipated with the early-season falters.

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