For the first time in about a year, there's a genuinely good feeling around Maryland football right now. The recruiting-based turnaround, which we'll look at a bit more in-depth in the next few days, really showcases the power even just one competent coordinator can have on an entire program.
Now just imagine if there were two competent coordinators.
That's been the dream for awhile now, and the fans' search for one has been going on ever since Randy Shannon turned the Terps down and Randy Edsall turned to Todd Bradford instead. No official action has been taken either firing or demoting The Todd since the end of the year, but Chick Hernandez reported a few weeks ago that it was basically a formality that he'd be fired. Logically, I would expect the same.
Since then, basically nothing has happened. The supposed leading candidate, Ron Vanderlinden, publicly denied any interest in the job. Meanwhile, Larry Johnson Sr. hasn't so much as been mentioned by any real source; nor has Randy Shannon or, for that matter, anyone else. What's up?
Shannon is now purportedly close to landing in Tennessee as the Volunteers' new defensive coordinator. Or he isn't. We really don't know anymore. Some people are saying no contact has been made; others, that a presser is coming on Monday. I guess we'll find out before long.
He was my favorite of the bunch, an experienced DC with a great reputation and decent enough recruiting prowess. If nothing else he'd add some much-needed respect to the staff, among the national media, recruits everywhere, and the fanbase.
If he does in fact end up at Knoxville - the probability of which is ranging from "done deal" to "they haven't even had contact yet" - you'd think that the next big candidate would be Johnson, the Penn State defensive line coach and mini-Mike Locksley. Johnson's local recruiting prowess is much less needed now that Locksley is on board, but he certainly couldn't hurt and he's well-liked around the state. The big question is going to be if he's retained at Penn State, which just hired Bill O'Brien. If O'Brien wants to keep him on, there's a good chance he'd stay on regardless of what Maryland offers him.
If Johnson is the guy, you'd think things would move pretty fast once he figures out whether or not he has a gig waiting for him in University Park. If Shannon doesn't end up at Knoxville and isn't in play for another big-time gig, well, there's no reason for Maryland to have not acted on him already.
But the little we've heard about either of them is worrisome. While I would guess both are being considered to some extent, the quietness is a bad indicator. If it isn't Shannon and it isn't Johnson ... who will it be? Might Bradford remain on the staff anyway?
That would certainly go a long way to dissolve some of the good will currently being developed by Locksley and the big recruiting class, and ultimately I don't consider it likely. I mentioned this earlier, but Bradford's connection to the Maryland staff actually came through Crowton; I wonder who, if anyone, would go to bat for him if there was any other name out there. Because if no one does, it's tough to keep a DC with no real credentials who headed one of the worst defenses in the country last year.
Barring a massive surprise, you'd almost certainly expect them to look elsewhere. The first option that springs to my mind is promoting defensive line coach Greg Gattuso, who's universally-liked and one of the best coaches and recruiters on the staff. I don't dislike the idea, but he's never been a defensive coordinator and that's a little worrisome. I also don't want to move him to DC and end up with a downgrade at DL coach, especially if he doesn't work out at DC either.
Another popular option is Brian Baker, the current Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach and an alum. He played at Maryland back in the '80s, so you'd have to think that the Terrapins would be an enticing offer for him. He's bounced around quite a bit as a defensive line coach, mostly in the NFL; aside from a one-month stop at UNC, during which he landed a four-star DT who later decommitted, he's been in the lig for the past 15 or so years. That's good. That said, he hasn't been in a long-term recruitment in decades, nor has he been a defensive coordinator since filling the role on an interim basis at Georgia Tech in the early 90s. He's far from ideal for me, but he's an alum who grew up in Maryland with a ton of coaching experience at the highest level; it's pretty tough to go wrong with that combination.
I also wonder if someone like Tom Bradley gets a look. I can't imagine he'd want to stay on at Penn State after not getting the job, even if O'Brien wants him. Stewart Mandel raised this point on Twitter a few hours ago: Bradley's a really good defensive coordinator with a sterling reputation now on the open market. Who lands him?
I don't know if Maryland has that much interest, especially if he has any Sandusky dirt around him. But Penn State is semi-local and he's easily one of the best defensive coordinators in the game - four of the past five years, PSU had top-10 scoring defenses in the country. He's not a great recruiter, but his name along should help the Terrapins in Pennsylvania and he should be able to sell kids on his scheme, which is really all he needs to do with Locksley around.
There are more options, of course. Mike Stoops, for one, which I'd love to see. Tyrone Nix, who got fired from Ole Miss but seems well-liked. I wouldn't be surprised to see someone like Todd Orlando, Randy Edsall's former DC at UConn who moved down to FIU and was a big part of the successful season they just had.
I really can't stress enough the importance of all this. Maryland still has a number of very good defensive players on the radar in 2012, not the least of which is super-defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, the consensus #2 player in the country. Kenny Crawley, who just decommitted from Tennessee, and Ronald Darby, still wavering on Notre Dame, are other big names still on the board.
Having Locksley on board will help on all of them, but they still need to be sold a scheme and a role. I'm not sure Bradford, a likely lame-duck with a middling reputation, can do that at all. Getting in an ultra-respected guy like Shannon or, and spit-balling here, Stoops or Bradley, would go a long ways toward convincing them Maryland is a viable option. With signing day really just around the corner, this isn't the type of decision you want dragging on.
It is interesting, though, that there's so much optimism around the program right now. Throwing a top-notch defensive coordinator in the mix would more or less solidify it, even if Maryland doesn't finish with the fabled Goldman-Diggs-Darby trifecta. Now, it's really just about finding the right one, and finding them fast.