When the University of Maryland tabbed Randy Edsall as football coach a little less than five years ago, athletic director Kevin Anderson envisioned the new hire taking the Terrapins from good to great.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition. But there’s also nothing wrong with being pretty good, either. That’s a more reasonable and sustainable destination for Maryland football.
The first step is winning consistently, which Edsall pulled off at UConn in going 8-5, 8-5, 8-5 and 9-4 before arriving at College Park. However, the Terps were headed toward their first two seasons under him, 2-10 and 4-8, halfway through this year.
Edsall wasn’t leading Maryland to the next level; he was letting it slip to the subpar levels of old.
“We did not show signs of progress in the way we were losing,” Anderson said at a Sunday news conference announcing Edsall’s dismissal.
To be clear, the manner of defeats mattered as much as the number. Routs were too routine and tight games were spread too far apart.
The Terps have been vanquished by three or more touchdowns in four games this year. Four losses last season were by at least 20 points. In 2013, Maryland suffered five double-digit losses, including three blowouts.
Forget about being good. Being competitive was a struggle for Edsall’s Terps.
This football program can do better. Yes, Maryland is a basketball school first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean it has to resemble Indiana on the gridiron. The Terps will never be confused with the Buckeyes or Wolverines, but they have the ingredients to build a regular winner with a great coach.
And spare me the excuse that being in a major metro market with a high percentage of transplanted residents is a detriment. Put the right players on the field with the right leaders and Maryland will carve out its share of attention.
Edsall was wrong from the beginning. He might have survived if Maryland remained in the old, hoops-centric Atlantic Coast Conference, but he never seemed big enough for the level Anderson seeks and the Big 10 requires.
The next coach needs more class to not storm from a postgame news conference when he resents a question, like Edsall did after Saturday’s loss at Ohio State. The next coach needs more self-awareness and sense to speak longer than five minutes after an embarrassment, which Edsall didn’t do last month following a blowout by Bowling Green. The next coach needs a style and personality that can energize fans and transmit to the field, where the game has gone digital while Edsall is stuck in analog.
The next coach needs to be the anti-Edsall, on the sideline and at the podium.
“We want somebody who’s going to come in here and excite the fan base,” Anderson said. “If you look at football today, fans want an exciting, wide-open offense, and I think that’s part of why we weren’t successful these last six games.”
The right coach can be successful at Maryland with the proper definition. I’m talking more wins than losses. Make fairly regular bowl appearances. Occasionally crack the Top 25 and/or beat teams there.
We’ve seen the transformative power of coaches at Oregon, where Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly turned the Ducks into piranhas. We’ve seen it work the other way at Miami, where Larry Coker and Randy Shannon turned the Hurricanes into a light drizzle.
Maryland’s conference affiliation, proximity to the nation’s capitol and fertile recruiting ground make this an attractive second-tier job. The renovation of Cole Field House into a $155 million indoor football facility, plus the checkbook and marketing support of Terps alum/Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, are bonuses.
All manner of names have been mentioned for the opening, including NFL assistants (San Diego OC Frank Reich and Indy OC Pep Hamilton); former coaches (Greg Schiano); hotshot lower-level coaches (Houston’s Tom Herman and Bowling Green’s Dino Babers); and well-regarded college assistants (Oklahoma OC Lincoln Riley).
Unfortunately for Terps interim coach Mike Locksley, his association with Edsall might taint him too much to be given the permanent position. He’s regarded as a top recruiter and the reason many top, in-state prospects have stayed home. But the Terps have little to show for Locksley’s talent haul and he was 2-26 in a stint as New Mexico’s head coach.
Maryland won’t land anyone with the name recognition of fellow Big 10 East division coaches Urban Myer, Jim Harbaugh or Mark Dantonio. The best-case scenario is securing an up-and-comer who uses success at College Park to catapult himself to an elite program.
Sounds like a deal. The Terps will never be great on the gridiron, anyway. But if Anderson gets this hire right, Maryland can float between good and very good.
That’s not bad for a hoops school.