Maryland Coach Randy Edsall Gets Second Chance
By PAUL DOYLE
The Hartford Courant
As 2011 began, Randy Edsall was at his professional peak.
The program he spent the previous decade building played in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, a crowning achievement for a team still in its Division I-A infancy. And two days after UConn's debut on the BCS stage, Edsall was standing at a lectern in College Park, Md., embarking on what he called his dream job.
At age 52, Edsall was a college football coach on the rise.
Exactly 47 weeks later, he was plummeting. Maryland finished 2-10 in Edsall's first season, losing the last eight games in a row. And seven of the losses were by double digits. As his former school, UConn, gets ready to take on Maryland Saturday (12:30 p.m., SNY), the Terps are 2-0.
Last season ended with a 56-41 loss to North Carolina State, which scored 42 unanswered points in the second half. Attendance was low, there was unrest in the locker room, fans were restless and the local media was turning on Edsall.
The harshest and most memorable critique came from columnist John Feinstein in the Washington Post: "Randy Edsall should be fired — today."
The school didn't take Feinstein's advice. Instead, it recommitted to Edsall by bringing in new coordinators and overhauling the athletic department's communications operation.
Life is tad more peaceful for the coach today. Maryland is 2-0, coming off a victory over Temple and the program's most ardent supporters seem willing to give Edsall an opportunity.
In June, Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank — Maryland's most prominent and high-profile financial donor — publicly supported Edsall. The billionaire's company is a corporate partner and Plank is considered an influential booster. So when Plank talks, the rest of the fan base listens.
"Randy Edsall is a good, strong, decent man who is working his tail off on behalf of the University of Maryland," Plank told the Baltimore Sun. "And there are more people that want to spend their days burning things down than building it up. At least just stop rooting against him. You know, give the guy a chance. ... You know how underperforming most people are in Year One? Let's let it settle. Let's give him a chance."
Plank, it should be noted, reportedly has a strong relationship with Mike Leach, who was a candidate for the Maryland coaching job after Ralph Friedgen was fired by athletic director Kevin Anderson after the 2010 season. The job went to Edsall. Leach, a popular candidate among Maryland fans, wound up at Washington State.
So Plank's endorsement was significant, especially with the program in transition. Edsall watched 13 players leave since the end of the 2011 season, including former starting quarterback Danny O'Brien. O'Brien is now starting at Wisconsin while Maryland is starting freshman quarterback Perry Hills.
But even O'Brien's departure proved to be controversial for Edsall, who at first restricted O'Brien from transferring to Vanderbilt because that team is coached by former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin. Edsall eventually gave O'Brien a full release, but the damage was done — the story drew national attention and Edsall was rounded mocked.
The image of Edsall crafted in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. media? A stubborn, petty guy who was simply in over his head.
When the school began working with Baltimore public relations agency Maroon PR in the late spring, the company's head wasn't sure what to expect. John Maroon, former media relations director for the Orioles and Redskins, said he was unsure if Edsall would be receptive to suggestions.
"But that was based on what I had read," Maroon said Friday. "What I found was a guy who got it. He understood what the media needed, he's a smart guy, he's a thoughtful guy, he's not some kind of obstructionist. And so it was very easy for me to make some suggestions and I was able to be really candid with him, and he was really open to things."
So there was an unexpected late-June press availability — Edsall's idea, Maroon said — that was less formal. Not only has Edsall been more accessible, but his coordinators (Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart, both in their first year) have been available to reporters once a week. They were not available last season, a policy he had while at UConn.
And throughout the community, Edsall has been speaking to groups and stating his case on behalf of his program. The view of Edsall might be slowly thawing, especially with the Terps winning their first two games and positive buzz surrounding the program's recent recruiting class.
Rivals.com rates Maryland's 2013 recruiting class as the 24th-best in the country and the sixth-best in the ACC. Edsall managed to secure commitments from a number of prospects in the Maryland/Washington area.
Still, there is skepticism. A few days after the upset of Temple, two hosts on ESPN 980 in Washington were chatting about the victory when the discussion turned to a debate about whether Maryland fans would rather have the team succeed or fail this season.
Losing, after all, could mean the end of the Edsall era.
"It's definitely a tough media market," Maroon said. "You actually have two media markets that are aggressively covering all things Terps, Baltimore and Washington. You've got the [Washington] Post and the [Baltimore] Sun, you've got eight TV stations, you've got all sorts of talk radio."
Edsall is in the second year of his six-year contract, and school officials reportedly are committed to him. There is no simmering unrest among boosters and the school has been touting an improved academic performance from players under Edsall.
"Things are moving in the right direction," Maroon said. "I think, in a nutshell, [last year] was almost like a perfect storm. The team was struggling, A lot of kids didn't want to be told that they had to go to class, and they decided to go elsewhere. As a result of that, coupled with the fact that Randy may have needed some folks around him that he was a little more comfortable with, all that kind of led to what you saw in the [media]."
This week, Edsall's past and present collide. When speaking to the Connecticut and Baltimore/Washington media in separate sessions, Edsall sounded scripted as he talked about his time at UConn. He did, though, show some remorse over the way he left the team 20 months ago.
"If I could do it over again, I wish that there was some way that I could see the players and tell them face-to-face that I was going to leave and come to Maryland," Edsall said. "But due to the circumstance surrounding that, I wasn't able to do that and that's something I've got to live with."
Edsall's exit surely serves as a source of motivation for the UConn players, but the man who replaced him doesn't see Edsall's career path as something out of the ordinary and that was the message he imparted to his players.
"Randy did a very very good job here," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "He left and went to Maryland. In this day and age, coaches move around all the time. It's not anything that doesn't happen every year. I don't think it's anything that that's unusual."