So, have you heard the news? Gary Crowton's gone! (I feel like one of our three wicked witches just got hit by a house.)
Two players have transferred from Maryland in the last 24 hours, but it's Crowton's departure that will most shock, and also invigorate, the fanbase. The former LSU and Oregon offensive coordinator, who was reportedly making $500k a year in guaranteed compensation, had a rocky first year in College Park, and was one of the fanbase's foremost targets after the disastrous 2-10 season.
And not without merit, might I add. Some defend Crowton based on the pure numbers of things, given Maryland was 6th in the ACC in total offense. Others defend him on Maryland's personnel and execution, in particular the regression of Danny O'Brien and the wide receivers' consistent drops.
Those all factor in, and surely greater football minds than I have opinions on Crowton's offensive mind. But, save for the first quarter of the Miami game, I've never really liked him. His scheme didn't fit the personnel in place and seriously lacked scoring bite (was 10th in the ACC in scoring O and second-to-last in the country in red zone TD%). He consistently showed that he didn't understand how to make the best of the tools at his disposal: C.J. Brown throwing it deep twice in a row after getting second-and-short is one of the least sensible playcalls I've seen, and these sorts of things happened all the time. (Hey, pocket quarterback Danny O'Brien, do a bunch of zone-read options!)
Most of all, though, the up-tempo pace absolutely throttled Maryland's defense, which had no depth and was on the field all the time. Maryland was second-to-last in the country in time of possession, ahead of only Oregon, the #3 scoring offense in the country. The Ducks, and most other programs around Maryland in that category, scored at such a high rate that they didn't really worry about giving the ball back, because they were confident they could always put up more points than the other team. Maryland couldn't, and basically just made an already-patchwork defense defend all day.
(Long sidebar: In fact, that's a big reason I consider Todd Bradford to be less of a disappointment than Crowton. Bradford largely had to deal with the same execution issues Crowton did with significantly less depth and had to be on the field all the time, an issue born out of Crowton's scheme. If Maryland's offense holds onto the ball more, I bet those embarrassing second-half defensive collapses to N.C. State, Clemson, and to a lesser extent Notre Dame and Virginia don't happen, or are significantly downgraded in degree.
I'm not saying that Bradford is a good defensive coordinator or should remain on the staff, particularly with the little he brings to recruiting. In fact, I'm all in favor of replacing him, either with Randy Shannon or Larry Johnson Sr. or even Greg Gattuso. But no defensive coordinator in the country had to deal with his situation: no offense held onto the ball that little and scored so few points, and I'd argue that his injuries, particularly early in the year, were unusual as well. Crowton didn't walk into an unusual situation in the least, but the results were nearly as middling. He was #2 on my list of coaches that had to go, right behind Lyndon Johnson. Bradford is lower.
And if I had to guess, I'd say The Todd is on his way out, and Lyndon will probably at least be reassigned off special teams. But these are posts for later days.)
Sorry about that, but it's a pet peeve of mine. For now, we should probably focus on the spot that isn't speculative: offensive coordinator.
I'm not sure as to the exact reasoning for the decision, but there are a handful of factors that I'd guess: performance, the need for a scapegoat, recruiting, and his public courting of the Colorado State job a few days ago. Throw them all together, and you have the recipe for one easy decision.
One of the big questions floating around out there is how much this is going to cost Maryland. After all, Crowton had a huge deal - like half a million huge - and for a department that has to cut sports, that's a lot of dough. Per Jeff Barker, there's likely to be a negotiated buyout, in which Maryland will be responsible for only part of the salary and Crowton is still allowed to coach elsewhere, which is common when there is no buyout clause in the contract.
Then again, Crowton's contract was never released to the public along with the other assistants, so the specifics of that situation are still messy. I wouldn't expect Maryland to have to pay down all of the deal, which is obviously a good thing.
And last but not least: seriously, who's Maryland going to hire now? Because getting rid of Crowton doesn't do any good if you go out and hire Jim Bollman. I'd wager that Edsall would prefer a pro-style scheme, which he's more familiar with and has favored historically. (I don't believe Edsall actually has an offensive philosophy of his own, but the troubles of the past year might've given him one.) With all the recent firings, there are plenty of decent candidates floating around out there.
If Maryland's looking for a big name, both Rick Neuheisel and Mike Sherman are available and have OC backgrounds, though I imagine both would be more geared to finding a head coaching gig somewhere. North Carolina's John Shoop would be extremely underwhelming, but he's a pro-style looking for a job who's been around the ACC. If Edsall's comfortable with the spread, Blake Anderson (formerly at Southern Miss) is a more exciting "new" option.
Or they could try to go the pro route. Guys like Mike Tice and Frank Reich are NFL position coaches who have Maryland ties (something this staff desperately needs) and would probably take the job. I'm just spitballin' here.
Another likely, if underwhelming, candidate: Joe Moorehead, who was Edsall's last offensive coordinator at UConn. He was okay - scoring offenses of 27th and 63rd nationally - but was demoted by Paul Pasqualoni back to QB coach this past season. He'd jump at the offer and likely has some measure of rapport with Edsall.
In my eyes, though, there's one obvious dream candidate: Mike Locksley. The former Terps running back coach, Illinois offensive coordinator, and New Mexico head man is a bit of a recruiting legend in these parts. Not only did he land the talent that made up Ralph Friedgen's successful early years, he's been a magnet for D.C. area kids everywhere he's been. Look at the job he did at Illinois: he landed Arrelious Benn, Reggie Ellis, Vontae Davis, Nathan Bussey, and Tavon Wilson, among others. Benn and Ellis should be the real standouts on that list: consider that in back-to-back years, he got arguably the best player in D.C. to go to Illinois, of all schools.
In other words, he's a game-changer in local recruiting. If Locksley is hired, it puts Maryland in the drivers seat for most of the 2013 locals and gives them a puncher's chance (or even more than that) with the DC-area elites in 2012, like Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, and Stefon Diggs. It's the type of change that needs to happen in Maryland's recruiting, even if it isn't the specific one.
As for him as a coordinator: eh. He's fine, though not particularly special. His first two years at Illinois were genuinely bad, but he finished up with scoring offenses of 58th and 40th nationally, so it looked like he figured out how to call a game. (Those first two years were his first as offensive coordinator anywhere.) He'd likely run a pro-style scheme and it could be run-heavy, but it's possible that his run-heavy schemes at Illinois were based on the fact that the Illini had Rashard Mendenhall and PIerre Thomas instead of it being his personal preference. I find it difficult to believe he'll be much worse than Crowton, though he isn't going to be an offensive mastermind.
Of course, it's impossible to have a legitimate discussion about Locksley and ignore his very obvious public bust-ups at New Mexico. A few facts of his time at UNM:
- Overall record of 2-26.
- Was in the weird situation where a recruit/drunk 19-year-old borrowed his son's car and claimed Locks gave him permission to use it.
- Punched an assistant.
- Was accused of sexual harrassment and age discrimination, though was cleared of both charges.
The obvious question with Locksley, then, isn't how he fits into the staff, it's how he fits in to Edsall's culture. He's a risk of sorts, without a doubt, but it's a risk I imagine Edsall is eager to take on. A 2-10 season calls for desperate measures, and I'm sure Edsall considers himself up to the task of keeping a prospective offensive coordinator in line.
All of this, at least at the moment, is speculative. That needs to be emphasized.
But Locksley, or someone of his ilk, needs to come down the pike. The recruiting finish for 2012 needs to be big, both in scholarships and quality, or things will get worse. Only a Locksley-type can make sure that happens.
(For the record, I'm actually okay if it isn't Locks, assuming they nab Larry Johnson as defensive coordinator and the hire is an ultra-competent type with a great reputation at OC. Just thought I'd throw that out there to make sure my position is understood.)
Here's the interesting thing about Edsall: he's a program CEO. He isn't hands-on in the least. He doesn't really coach the players. He hires other people and sets the tone for the program. That's it. So if he makes the right hires, a lot changes, both in Maryland's performance and people's perception of him.
Though some Edsallites will disagree with me based on the criticism he's received, Randy's still in a little bit of a honeymoon period. Most (though not all) people aren't personally rooting for his failure yet - once that happens, things are past saving. A good recruiting finish and solid 2012 year, and he will have his fair share of friends in the fanbase. But if the recruiting finish isn't there, and if Maryland struggles again next season, things may be past saving.
This hire is critical. If/when the defensive coordinator one opens up, that one will be too. And not just for Edsall, but for Maryland as well. Basically, they're getting a mulligan, and the fanbase won't be as forgiving next time around. Things can either go very right or very wrong from this point. Buckle up.