clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Maryland Football's Offseason Checklist: Randy Edsall's Path Back

Getty Images

If Kevin Anderson is to be believed, Randy Edsall isn't going anywhere, at least not at Anderson's hand. Anderson also claims, though, that he'll undergo a "top-to-bottom review" of the football program with Edsall. And if I had to guess, the changes to come from that review will be fairly significant.

After all, both Anderson and Edsall admit that their 2-10 campaign was unacceptable. And you usually don't dig your way out of a big hole by doing what got you there in the first place.

It's reasonable to ask what those changes actually are. For the moment, they're staying mum on that. In the meantime, though, I would like to propose a few suggestions.

See, Maryland football should be at least a consistently good team, if not a powerhouse. A lot has to happen to get there, but it's an endeavor worth undertaking. These steps won't get them there by themselves, but they're at least a good start for a path back to winning football.

Let's start with the easiest one, shall we?

Find a new special teams coordinator.

This, you would think, is be the most basic and easy change. I have my doubts about it actually happening - Lyndon Johnson has been with Edsall for quite some time now, following him from UConn - but it seems so painfully obvious that I have some hope. See, I don't care if Johnson happens to be the best special teams coordinator in the universe, not that he is: Edsall needs to send a message, with real action and not just lip service quotes, that last season was unacceptable and he knows it. And in no place was last year more unacceptable than special teams.

For context, Maryland has historically had one of the best special teams units in the country, at times quietly rivaling Virginia Tech. Back in the Ray Rychleski days, the Terrapins boasted some of the best kickers (Nick Novak, Dan Ennis), punters (Brooks Barnard, Adam Podlesh, Travis Baltz) and return men (Steve Suter, Torrey Smith, Tony Logan) not just in the conference, but in conference history. They had an absurd streak of games without a blocked kick. They were a good unit often bordering on great.

This year? Maryland was 12-20 on field goals, good for 60% and 98th in the country. They had a 38-yard punting average, 94th nationally. A 7% touchback percentage on kickoffs, 94th nationally. A 19-yard kick return average, 93rd nationally. A 5-yard punt return average, 100th nationally. And worst of all, a 26-yard kick return defense average, second-worst in the country.

That is starkly, deeply, profoundly bad. In fact, Maryland wasn't in the bottom 30 nationally in only one of the seven major categories (punt return defense, which was mostly because the punts were so short). And it's not like Johnson's reeled in any major commitments on the recruiting trail. This is the easiest change there is to make: someone came in and took a solid unit to being terrible.

One option is to go after a good local recruiter, like Iowa's current special teams coordinator Darrell Wilson. Another is to bring back the tried-and-true Rychleski, who might be available after everyone at Indianapolis gets fired. Do something, because Johnson being back next year sends a terrible message to the diehards in the fanbase.

In fact, while we're on the topic, revamp the entire coaching staff, starting with the coordinators.

Johnson's incompetence might be the easiest to spot, but the entire staff really struggled this year. Any team that goes 2-10 has serious problems all the way down the line, and Maryland was no different. One of the few bright spots was Greg Gattuso, probably one of the best five or so defensive line coaches in the country. Everyone else? As the Mottrams would say, PSGO. And let's start with the offensive and defensive coordinators.

Todd Bradford, in fact, will almost certainly get the boot - remember that he was far from Randy Edsall's first choice for DC, and was only put there as an emergency measure. In all honesty, he wasn't that bad: he was dealt a shit hand, with a thin defense, several injuries, and an offense that refused to give them any rest. But his track record is bad enough, and he made enough poor decisions (Kenny Tate to linebacker, anyone?), that he probably has to go, or at least be bumped back down to the inside linebacker position coach spot he was hired for.

Gary Crowton's status is more questionable. I actually think he was the coaching staff's primary offender; his offense not only failed to produce enough points to win consistently (7 against Temple? 16 against Georgia Tech? 13 against UVA? 10 against Wake Forest?) - its up-tempo style kept Maryland's defense constantly on the field and was a big reason for their consistent second-half collapses. His track record isn't quite as bad as Bradford's, although in all fairness it isn't stellar either; the more important factor is his albatross of a contract, which is supposedly at $500k - more than head coaches like the legendary Chris Ault or up-and-comers like Hugh Freeze and Mario Cristobal. That's monopoly money. Frankly, I'm not sure that Maryland has the financial ability to buy that out and then accomodate a few other big money deals. He's a bit of a watermark decision: how willing is Edsall to adapt, even if costs big money?

And go down the line. Andre Powell, for instance, was fired from his previous job as Clemson's running backs coach. If Maryland is trying to be better than Clemson, why hire someone not good enough for Dabo Swinney? And then there are guys like John Dunn and Keith Dudzinski, who are in their first major jobs. It's a staff equal parts inexperienced and incompetent, and it needs to be fixed.

To replace them, add an elite local recruiter ... or three.

One of my big gripes with Edsall's staff development was the minimal importance he placed on recruiting. There's not a single guy on the staff who has strong local ties. It's like the opposite of Mark Turgeon. And Maryland's recruiting efforts, particularly locally, have really suffered for it.

That's a shame, because Edsall is as advertised on the trail: no one said he'd be a charismatic guy or a closer, but he was said to be a hard worker and he is. Remember back on his bye week when he was a big presence at Gilman, Good Counsel, and Red Lion games? He just needs to surround himself with well-connected, well-liked guys who can close a recruit.

The obvious one? Larry Johnson Sr., the Penn State defensive line coach who dominated locally a few years ago. He'll almost certainly be available and would be an obvious upgrade for Maryland at defensive coordinator or perhaps linebackers coach (Gattuso is locked in at DL, assuming he stays).

But LJ alone won't fix the problems, even if he'd help tremendously. Guys like Wilson, Mike Locksley (if he can be touched), and Craig Jefferies (the former Dunbar coach who followed Locks to UNM) need to be strongly considered. So, too, do prominent local coaches, like Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, who has turned Friendship Collegiate into a D.C. powerhouse and is very well-respected. (Oh, and he coaches Jalen Tabor.)

If Edsall can find a staff similar in quality to the one Turgeon has built - admittedly, no easy task, but I believe fully possible - there's no reason he can't recruit at a consistently high level, significantly higher than this year and good enough to compete with the rest of the ACC Atlantic.

Retain the current commitments, and add a few more - one big one in particular.

Maryland's current recruiting haul is ... uninspiring, let's say. Rivals ranks it as the second-worst class in the ACC, ahead of only Wake Forest, and that won't fix Edsall's old complaint of the current team lacking enough talent to hang with FSU or Clemson. We're at a point where there's no way this class will fix those problems, but there's still a chance for it to make a dent with a strong finish.

The class should have around 23 or so when all's said and done; right now, there are 18 commitments. That's at least five more spots open. The key now is rounding out a solid base with a few high-level talents. If you could plan it out, you'd throw in guys Maryland has a great chance with like D.J. Reader and Abner Logan; steal a Penn State commitment like Eugene Lewis, Brian Gaia, or Brent Wilkerson; take a flier on an extremely athletic guy like Sunny Odogwu; and perhaps steal a really talented 'backer like Deaysean Rippy, pipedream though he may be. Even without Rippy, that sort of finish would upgrade the class fairly substantially.

But the most important guy? Noah Spence, the best defensive end in the country. He cut his list to 5 recently, and it includes Maryland. The Terrapins might actually be a favorite of sorts; Greg Gattuso is a massive player in this recruitment, and Maryland's been in the top tier ever since he came on the staff. With his previous supposed favorite Penn State hurting itself with the scandal, Spence is there for the taking, particularly because he seems to want to stay close to home.

If Maryland's staff can hold off LSU and Ohio State - it seems unlikely, sure, but with Gattuso and the homefield advantage it may be possible - Spence would be an amazing coup. Not only is he probably the best defensive lineman in the class and an elite pass-rusher who would start right away, he'd also give recruiting all sorts of momentum. There's certainly a strong peer pressure factor in recruiting, and landing a highly-ranked, well-known guy like Spence could have a significant domino effect with other highly-regarded recruits.

Pulling in Spence, particularly if surrounded by Reader, Logan, Rippy, and a few others, would help to change the perception of Edsall's recruiting ability and, more importantly, provide Maryland with some much-needed reinforcements.

Find a scheme and stick with it.

Perhaps we should've seen this coming: a historically pro-style ground game guy (Edsall) comes into a pro-style balanced offense (Maryland) and hires a historically spread-offense coordinator (Crowton). In retrospect, none of it makes any sense, and it shouldn't have been a surprise that Maryland started to have an offensive identity crisis three weeks into the season.

Are they a pass-heavy spread attack, like they were against WVU and Miami? Or a balanced pro-style, like they were against Towson and the first half of the Georgia Tech game? Or a run-heavy zone-read spread, like they were with C.J. Brown in the closing weeks of the season?

I don't know. I don't think Randy Edsall or Gary Crowton knows, either. But they darn well better figure it out, because constantly switching between the three isn't helping anyone. It's disruptive to the players, the quarterback in particular, and it was likely a big reason for the inconsistency we saw from Maryland's offense all year. This may not happen until spring ball, but it needs to happen, and they need to make sure they stick with it.

Figure out an identity and a personality. The rest will come.

Lighten up or get the team to buy in - or both.

The largest problem in the football program might be the attitude surrounding it. And no, I don't mean that the players aren't, in the words of Randy, "fine young men." The reali issue is that there seems to be a lot of discontent brewing in the locker room.

The signs are everywhere. The obvious one is the #GSP hashtag players have been using on Twitter, an acronym for Gossett State Penitentiary. When the players are likening the team house to a prison? Yeah, that's a problem.

I can't help but wonder if their personal distaste for the man or his policies have something to do with Maryland's extremely inconsistent performances. See, the team never seemed to be dialed in for any opponent that wasn't a big name. Sure, they were ready to go against Miami, West Virginia, and Clemson - any team would be, given those situations.

The problem is that they weren't ready for Temple and UVA and Boston College. I'm on the outside looking in, but that usually indicates that players can motivate themselves for big games and can't for the smaller ones. One of the coach's primary jobs, of course, is to make sure that the players are motivated, prepared, and ready to go. And unless it was easy, Maryland wasn't motivated, prepared, or ready to go. Whether or not that has to do with Edsall's demeanor, it needs to change.

Even if the motivation problem doesn't have to do with the atmosphere, something I have trouble believing, it's obvious that the team didn't buy into what ever Edsall was selling. If they did, I doubt there'd be players complaining on Twitter en masse or the need to have a running transfer count. He either needs to figure out a way to get them to buy in, or he needs to change the product.

Take a crash course in PR.

Look, I'm sure UConn football has some great fans and some great support. But it's a basketball school in a town with 10,000 residents. There's no history of football, let alone football success. There's one medium-sized paper. Edsall went cloak-and-dagger there in the press, and he got away with it. Really, who cared?

The situation is drastically different at Maryland. While still a basketball school, UMD has had a major football team for decades (unlike UConn) and is nestled in-between two major media markets. In fact, the two markets feature two newspapers that easily surpass the Courant in circulation and reputation, and two more with similar circulation numbers (the Examiner and the Times). The secrecy approach isn't working under media pressures and unhappy fans, and he has to realize it.

The scary thing is, when he does talk, the wrong things often come out. As John Feinstein said, Edsall just doesn't get it. He tends to blame others without taking responsibility when things go wrong, and he seems plastic and unlikable in front of a microphone. He certainly doesn't seem to understand the culture at Maryland: a fanbase that often seems to revel in being hated, a student body that often seems unattached to the university, a place where Terrapin football is hardly the only gig in town and it certainly isn't the best.

The examples of his failure to "get it," whether "it" is how to talk to the media, how to treat his players, or how to interact with the fanbse, came when D.J. Adams transferred. Adams, a fan favorite, handled it with class, writing, "I wish Coach Edsall, the coaching staff, and the Maryland football program as a whole much success today and always." (Seriously, go read the whole statement and tell me that was a "bad seed" Edsall needed to weed out.)

Do you know what Edsall's response was? Oh, he declined to comment. It's little things, things like that, that really wear on you. How hard would it be for him to reciprocate? Just to say, "We wish DJ the best of luck in his future endeavors"? It's times like that when you realize that Edsall has abandoned his team in the past, that he doesn't seem to understand how to deal with the press or with a fanbase.

It's a little thing, but it's indicative of Edsall's larger personality struggles. It's not all that important in the big scheme of things, where winning still rules all. But, of course, he's not winning either. And when you're not winning, everythingis under the microscope. Getting the fanbase back won't be easy, but it's something he needs to do, and step one is to change his image.

All the steps as a whole are quite a lot, I know. Thing is, you don't struggle the way Maryland struggled this season unless something is fundamentally wrong. To fix it, there have to be fundamental changes - more, in fact, than just those that I've mentioned here.

I don't know that much about college football - less, surely, than most of Maryland's coaches. (Not you, Todd, I probably know more than you.) But I know enough to know this: unless things improve in Randy Edsall's second year, he won't get a third.