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Talking Terps: New coaching hires and the pre-Signing Day recruiting frenzy

Pete and FlaTerp discuss the new hires, the hire yet to come and where the recruiting class stands.

Rob Carr

Pete: So Maryland has announced some staff changes, with three new hirings -- wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and defensive line coach Chad WIlt. But just when we thought things were settled, DeGuglielmo left for the Patriots (update: and now he's been replaced). We'll get into what we think of these comings and goings later with the on-the-field and off-the-field ramifications of each, but first, a broader question.

How do you feel about Maryland's new-look staff so far? Are there any issues that you can identify that you think should be fixed?

FlaTerp: Assessing a college assistant coach feels a little bit like throwing darts. You can look at a resume and draw conclusions, but unless you actually see them working and interacting with players and recruits, breaking down film, working on game plans etc., you can't really know what they'll be like. That being said, my initial reactions to the coaching turnstyle are:

--I'm going to miss Greg Gattuso, who was a good recruiter in a key region, who oversaw a solid DL unit, and who the players seemed to like and respect. Lee Hull also had an established history of developing quality receivers - the position was never a sore spot during his tenure.
--I like the McCardell hire because I liked him as a player. He's got a great highlight reel that should resonate even with elite Terps like Stefon Diggs, not to mention with recruits. Can he coach? I don't know. Hope so.
--Wilt is the wildcard, obviously. He's stepping up to a bigger job and will have to prove himself both with his players and on the recruiting trail. Considering the other two new hires are older guys with NFL experience, it's nice to mix in a young and hopefully hungry guy.
--DeGuglielmo's quick departure was understandable I guess. Can you really turn down a spot on Bill Belichick's staff?

I put the OL situation last, Pete, because I think this was and remains the most important hire for Edsall, and not just because I so badly want the new assistant coach to help close the deal on Prince. Whether or not that happens, this future coach will be taking over a unit that will have many new faces and not much in the way of experience and continuity. OL has been a problem for a few years now and as long as it remains a problem, that's as long as the Terps are going to remain afterthoughts in whatever conference they play in.

We've seen Andrew Emmer's excellent piece discussing some potential candidates for this opening. You got a favorite?

Pete: Well, you and I were discussing this earlier and you suggested Damian Prince's mother, which I think is a fantastic idea. But in terms of the "real" candidates, my favorite was Mike Tice, who has since been hired by the Falcons. Of the others Andrew listed, I would go with Pat Hill due to his vast experience in the game, but Maryland has kept an extremely tight ship in terms of the hiring process and it's entirely possible a name could simply come out of nowhere.

FlaTerp: So let me flip your first question back at you: you feeling okay about the state of the coaching staff?

Pete: Well, like you, I think it's hard to get a complete hold on these hires, but we are (at least partially) in the business of speculation, so let's speculate! I like the hires that were made quite a bit, but I do wish there was an additional established recruiter (besides Mike Locksley) on the staff. Keith Dudzinski is probably the second-best recruiter, and while that's certainly not something to scoff at, Maryland has to do a better job locking down their home territory, which produces a high amount of blue-chip talent that the Terps have still been unable to touch.

Lyndon Johnson is a popular pick among fans as a coach who could be replaced, but while his recruiting track record isn't exactly impressive, he did a great job with the outside linebackers this past season. It's impossible to know what John Dunn's title of recruiting coordinator actually entails, but he hasn't been listed with bringing in any recruits (and tight end isn't exactly a key part of the offense), so that's a concern. Andre Powell is another question mark -- the special teams improved under him as the coordinator, but the running backs struggled and Will Likely is the only real recruiting splash he's made. That being said, the "I coached C.J. Spiller" factor should play well with recruits, and it's never as simple as "this guy recruited this guy" -- you have to imagine Powell was at least a part of Wes Brown's decision to come to Maryland.

Overall, it's hard to find a specific place where Maryland should improve, but I still do feel that the recruiting ability of this staff isn't as high as it should be. Chris Brown of Smart Football and Bill Connelly of Football Outsiders talked about what they considered the four most important things for a program to get from their coaching, in order -- recruiting, development, scheme and in-game coaching. I happen to 100% agree with this, and I think this staff leaves some to be desired in the first, third (on offense) and fourth categories. If Maryland can recruit better and can continue to develop at the rate that they have, this program could see quite a bit of improvement.
That was a bit of a tangent, but while we're there -- do you agree with that assessment? Do you think those categories are in the wrong order, or that one is being forgotten? Either way, how does the coaching staff rate for you in your areas of importance?

FlaTerp: I am such a recruiting junkie that I would probably agree with putting that first of the four. But then you look at UVA, which, since Mike London took over, has recruited better and better while playing worse and worse each passing year. So maybe the development and scheme elements should be No. 1 candidates too. I do agree that in-game coaching is a distant fourth. You run quality practices and prepare properly, then the game takes care of itself. Talented and well-coached players will handle their business on the field using plays and schemes that should've been ironed out ahead of time.

I agree with you about needing an established recruiter beyond Locksley and I do wonder whether we got one in these new hires. Unfortunately, Maryland just isn't in a position, financially or in reputation, to attract a Larry Johnson type to College Park. I'm; hopeful about Wilt and really hopeful about McCardell. He's from Houston and played his best NFL years in Jacksonville, so if he has any connections in either of those fertile places, great. Otherwise, let's just hope he's someone with an engaging personality that matches his NFL background, so the players and the recruits will be drawn to him.

One thing is certain now. This is officially Randy Edsall's program, hands down, top to bottom. It's his players, his coaches, his rules, his everything. The last of the Friedgen-era coaches, Hull and Brattan, are gone and two of the three new coaches had specific history with Edsall. When I read that last sentence, it makes me wonder if next season is really a make-or-break year for him, as so many people speculate it will be. His autonomy over the program is growing, not shrinking. His current coaches (Stewart) are getting extensions while his new coaches are guys he hand-picked based on his personal experience with them.

Pete: I think London is a great example there, and when Chris and Bill were talking about it they said you need those first two to be good and the first three to be great. Virginia, for whatever reason, seemingly hasn't been able to develop those prospects (think Morgan Moses), but they certainly have the talent to just suddenly break out next season -- so we'll have to see what happens. I also agree with what you're saying about Wilt and McCardell, and am hopeful for the recruiting ability of both (especially the latter). Now that DeGuglielmo has moved on, maybe his replacement will be someone with a solid recruiting track record, or at least someone like McCardell who looks like a potential recruiting asset on paper.

In terms of a make-or-break year for Edsall, that's an extremely interesting question. Folks have been clamoring for his dismissal since year one, but I think we're finally far enough along in his contract that this could actually be that season. The team has a ton of talent, and despite an uptick in some aspects of the schedule I think Maryland should be winning around seven games. Like you said, it's truly his team at this point -- in the fourth year of a coaching tenure, almost all of the players on the roster are yours, and now the coaches are as well -- so if he does not succeed (which, while seven games is my expectation, a bowl game might be the level of success necessary to keep his job), it could be it for him.

So I'll ask you that question -- what's your expected win level for next season, and what do you think is the minimum level of success Edsall has to reach not to be fired?

FlaTerp: I'm just not enthused about the football program right now. I wish I was, but I'm not. There were some very hard-to-swallow games last year -- Wake Forest, Syracuse, Marshall, and even that very suspect win over UVA -- that I have a tough time attributing to injuries. For reasons stated above, though, I just don't see the evidence that Edsall is on the hot seat this year. I'd speculate it's more likely that this year is the year that could put Edsall on the hot seat for 2015. Kevin Anderson seems to be a buyer, not a seller, when it comes to his football coach.

I'm not sure about the win number as it pertains to Edsall's future because I think the institution has miles more faith in him than the fanbase does. So instead, I'll just look at the schedule and see what I think would be an acceptable season. There's really no reason this team couldn't be at least 4-1 (JMU, @USF, WVU, @Syrause, @Indiana) heading into Ohio State, but man, does it get tough from there. Where are the wins? Maybe Iowa, maybe Rutgers, but those look like 50-50 games to me. Otherwise the Terps are big underdogs in the rest of 'em.

Hate to say it, but Maryland could play good football, finish 6-6 and spend their Christmas at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in exotic Detroit. I don't think that would sit well with anybody, except maybe Kevin Anderson. If they get to 7-5 like last year, they either swept bunch of programs that would all argue they aren't any worse than Maryland (WVU, Rutgers, @Syracuse, Iowa and @Indiana) or else they knocked off a couple of heavy favorites.

However, it's the downside that worries me. If things go badly, you could argue that 11 of Maryland's 12 games are losable within reason, with James Madison being the lone exception. I think it's very possible the Terps are Vegas underdogs in 10 of their 12 games. If that's the case, a 6-6 season could still be seen as viable by the administration, I would think, but what about a 3-9 season? Take another look at that schedule -- crazier things have happened, right?

Pete: Crazier things have certainly happened (hey, James Madison has proven a stiff test for the Terps of the past), but this roster is stacked with talent, and despite the schedule I really do believe they can turn some heads in the Big Ten.

Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin are obviously the big three games (although Iowa, Michigan, West Virginia and even Syracuse are all poised to make big improvements for next year), but if they can stay healthy, I truly do believe the talent is there for a "successful" campaign, by all standards. Whether that'll happen? Who knows. It's a long offseason, so all we can do is wait and see.

FlaTerp: While we're talking about assistant coaches, let's talk about Mike Locksley a moment. He's been a beloved figure who was widely viewed as the savior upon his return to Maryland, a reputation that was boosted even further when the Terps came out of nowhere to pull both Wes Brown and Stefon Diggs. Later local stud commits like Yannick Nguakoue, Derwin Gray and Jesse Aniebonam showed us that Locksley can keep home some of those premier local guys that Maryland was missing on before he came back.

More recently, however, things have gotten a little more gray on the Locksley front. Maryland swung and missed with its three-year recruitment of Jalen Tabor, they missed on Melvin Keihn, they missed on Troy Vincent Jr. and Brock Ruble, and now the Damian Prince pursuit is looking more iffy than it was a month ago. Further, the proverbial "put up a fence" dynamic simply hasn't happened. There are two current 2014 Maryland commits who are from Maryland. That's less than N.C. State and the same amount as Penn State, West Virginia and Tennessee. This is a big problem, isn't it? There's no other way to look at it. Since I don't think anyone's exactly fawning over Locksley's play-calling, he's got to nail the recruiting game to be successful at Maryland. Where do you stand on Locksley right now?

Pete: It's a huge problem, but one that quickly becomes a non-problem if Maryland lands Damian Prince and Jared Cohen. The Terps currently have just one of the top 22 players in the state of Maryland (according to the 247sports composite), and it's not like there's another program in the state who is able to recruit. Granted, Maryland has the second-best player in the state, and could soon have the top dog, but it's a huge disappointment that more local dominoes haven't fallen the Terps' way.

There's a ton of talent in this area, and a lot of it in the 2015 class (we'll do something more expansive on this another time, but if the Terps comprised their class of the top talent in just Maryland and DC, it would easily be a top-15 class). If Locksley and Maryland are able to close out this one and make some headway on the next one, I'll be a lot less worried about the program's future. He certainly isn't on staff for his scheme or playcalling skills.

Moving away from the coaching staff for a second and towards the players they will be working with, are there any units that really concern you right now?

FlaTerp: Sure there are. At this point, any reasonable Maryland fan has got to be worried about the offensive line. It's no coincidence that the one former assistant coach who did not leave for a better opportunity was the OL coach, Tom Brattan. Meanwhile, the Terps lost Madaras, Arnett and Stinebaugh from last year's starting unit and there are legitimate question marks surrounding some of the returning guys. Terps fans will be hoping for big contributions from incoming freshmen like Derwin Gray (and hopefully Prince and Cohen too) as well as transfer Larry Mazcyk. It's a leap of faith to put too much pressure on kids who've never played a down of Maryland football, but hopefully it'll work itself out.

I mentioned OL before cornerback, just because I would argue it's the more important of the two units, but corner is maybe even more of a dire situation. I really like both Will Likely and Jeremiah Johnson, but there's just no numbers at corner and if injuries occur, watch out. You don't want to be able to count all the cornerbacks in the program on one hand, but that's where we are right now. Maryland badly needed Jalen Tabor; now Maryland badly needs to stumble across a quality corner or two here at the end of the recruiting cycle. Will Likely was a late find last year, so maybe there's hope. Is there hope? If not, what is the future of that unit? You like any of the safeties, receivers or incoming-freshman-quarterbacks-from-Dunbar to possibly shift to corner?

Pete: I do think cornerback is the biggest area of concern (I also agree offensive line is a more important unit, but I have more confidence there), and that's why they're making some late pushes on certain local kids -- I expect at least one, probably two to end up in the class just because of numbers. In terms of candidates for a possible position change, Jacquille Veii was recruited to Maryland as a cornerback and could move back there after Wes Brown's return.

I also think Josh Woods, who is in the recruiting class as a safety, is a strong candidate to stay at corner, where he played in high school. He's actually one of the guys I'm highest on in the class.
It looks unlikely that there will be a late super-add like last season, but I imagine the Terps will make a run at Alameen Murphy, the local three-star cornerback who is committed to Stanford (where defensive coordinator David Shaw left for Vanderbilt).

FlaTerp: That's interesting about Woods; I didn't know he was a corner in high school. What about his film stood out to you? Is there anyone else in the 3-star portion of the class whose film drew your eye so far?

Pete: He's got great instincts for the ball and a fantastic frame, and is really skilled at making plays in the open field (he was a wide receiver and returner in high school, as well). The problem is his speed -- his top gear isn't the issue, but he doesn't quite have the quick burst you ideally want in a corner and that's probably why he's listed at safety. I still like him at corner, though, especially considering the depth problems. At the very least, he could be a backup option in dime sets, a la A.J. Hendy;.

In terms of other three-stars, Tyler Burke and Brendan Moore have stood out to me as guys who could make a real impact. Burke is a tackling machine and Moore has a solid frame and is further along in his technique than a lot of other high school prospects. Andrew Gray is also interesting prospect as a block-first tight end, and could see some play early to help out the offensive line.

FlaTerp: You're a film geek, Volk. Only X more days until National Signing Day. Get back to it!