Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE
I was going to stick this in the MM today, but after I wrote about three paragraphs on it I realized it probably deserved its own post. That's despite the knowledge that, yeah, there's a 95% chance this ends up an terrible flame war that's hell to moderate. Still, it's probably a conversation worth having, not least because the decision not to hire Mike Leach - who was the desired choice of 97% of the fanbase - is one of the most high-profile and most impactful decisions in Maryland athletics in decades. (Arguably even more impactful than the actual hiring of Edsall, though they kind of go hand-in-hand.)
Don Markus the Sun is hardly the only one to ask this question over the past couple days, but he is the most high-profile and, well, I wanted to have this discussion anyway. The article is just my excuse.
I remember thinking at the start of this season that Maryland fans might pay attention to what Leach was doing at Washington State, and what former quarterback Danny O'Brien was doing at Wisconsin, if the Terps continued to struggle. But the Terps started 2-0 and 4-2, while Leach started losing after the quick start and O'Brien was benched shortly after the Badgers lost in Week 2 at Oregon State.
While many around here are not ready to completely support Anderson's decision to hire Edsall - as they have his decision to hire Mark Turgeon - maybe backing off Leach was not a bad idea after all.
If you're late to the Leach party, his star player - Marquess Wilson, the school's all-time leading receiver - quit the team and has accused Leach of fostering a toxic atmosphere on the field and in practice, going so far as to call the staff "abusive." This is Leach's second run-in with this type of thing, giving it some credibility. And obviously the first thing you think of: good thing Maryland steered well clear of him, right? That was the giant risk - would Leach implode? It turns out he did. And that chance was why Maryland did, ultimately, steer well clear of him, so there's some vindication in the athletic department. Markus, who was on the Leach train the first time around, has come to that conclusion. A lot of other people have, too.
(I should say that I'm pretty iffy on whether or not this situation is as bad as it seems at first glance. It's getting a lot of purchase since Leach has a history with it, but the basics of the situation - a star player quitting on the team mid-season and going out swinging - is something that Edsall went through, too. It's something any coach could go through with the right circumstances. And, just like Edsall, Leach is using the ol' "We're actually using discipline now and they just want the easy way out" to cover himself.)
But here's the thing: regardless of this, knowing what we know now, Leach was always a bad choice. The reason Leach was so desired by fans was that he was a game-changer, which is what it seemed like Maryland football needed. Remember the keyword every was chattering about when the job opened up: "buzz." That was the big thing that Maryland needed - buzz, excitement, butts in the seats, so on and so forth. The program had stagnated and needed a radical, foundational change, or at least that was the thinking. And Leach is nothing if not radical.
What we didn't know, though, is that Maryland already had its buzz thanks to Under Armour. Leach was desired as a sort-of USP for Maryland football, but unbeknowst to fans and media, Maryland football had already found its USP: it was the Pride uniforms, the myriad jersey combos, the cool factor. Some laugh and say that's not a foundational change, but think about it this way: there was more buzz around the program after the Miami win than there's arguably ever been. It was lead-story-on-SportsCenter big, LeBron-James-tweeting-about-Maryland-football big, superstar-locals-putting-Maryland-in-their-top-two big. Forget hiring Leach to generate buzz; that was the buzz. The uniforms, the stage, the performance: had they just managed to get to a bowl game last season, it's scary to think about the trajectory the program would've been put on.
Anderson knew that the uniforms were in the pipeline. He knew that the Labor Day matchup was in the pipeline. He knew that the Maryland Pride initiative was in the pipeline. The plan was to become the Oregon of the East but do so while catering to local recruits; it would've worked, too, had going 2-10 not killed it dead. The last thing Anderson needed to do was to take a risk that would do more to jeopardize that plan than add to it. Hiring a ticking time bomb who wouldn't buy into being a corporate shill, wouldn't do legwork on the trail with local power brokers, and had a very good chance of completely imploding and taking the buzz down with him? It's something that made more sense for Washington State (which doesn't have enough of a footprint to generate buzz or enough local talent to make relationships in recruiting mean anything) than for Maryland, a program that was about to undergo a serious makeover based largely on shilling for UA and doing legwork in recruiting.
When we didn't know about all that, the potential reward from Leach was worth the risk, because fans wanted a big change and Leach was the only one they saw. But with it all in place, was Leach really worth rolling the dice on, knowing that there was a good chance something like this would happen? Not really. And by the way, I was thinking along these lines even before this incident. Leach, strange as it is to say, was probably a bad choice in retrospect, and not just because he did in fact eventually blow up.
I'm still unconvinced that Anderson is a genuinely competent administrator at this level, but kudos to him for seeing that and acting on it. I've said several times that, even though everyone says Edsall was the "safe" hire that didn't require a backbone, quite the opposite is true. It would've been very, very easy for Anderson to bow to public pressure and hire Leach, with the baying hounds of the fanbase as a built-in human shield should Leach not work out. Instead, he damned the torpedoes and went with his guy, as boring and unconvincing as he may have been.
None of this is to say that Edsall was the right guy, mind you. I'm not trying to compare the two; Randy will be judged on Randy's record, at the end of the day, and no one else's. Miss a bowl next season and he'll be run out of town, probably deservedly, and nothing about Leach will change that. Nor does it absolve Anderson of hiring Edsall, should he fail; there were, of course, other options (Malzahn and Sumlin being the obvious two). The two are still attached at the hip in many ways. Heck, it doesn't even necessarily mean Leach would've failed or imploded here.
But given that Leach dominated the fanbase's collective consciousness for three weeks, it's interesting to check back in and analyze the situation given the benefit of the hindsight. And when we do, the answer is a little surprising: Leach may not have ever the home run people thought he was.