Losing Edsall a worrisome sign for UConn

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
7:50
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Rich Rodriguez led West Virginia to BCS games and left for mighty Michigan and the Big House. Bobby Petrino took Louisville to the Orange Bowl and bolted for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, where he thought he'd get to coach Michael Vick. Brian Kelly guided Cincinnati to back-to-back BCS berths before attempting to restore the glory at Notre Dame.

Now Connecticut's Randy Edsall has parlayed the Huskies' BCS berth into a new job at ... Maryland?

[+] EnlargeConnecticut Huskies head coach Randy Edsall
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter leading the UConn Huskies to a BCS bowl berth, coach Randy Edsall will head to Maryland next season.
No, not Maryland's NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens. The Maryland Terrapins, a program that has had a few nice runs in its history -- including in the early 2000s under the recently fired Ralph Friedgen -- but is nowhere near one of the blue-chip institutions in college football.

Beyond the natural stress that comes with losing any coach in January, Connecticut fans must be asking themselves why Edsall left for a program that isn't all that appreciably better. (By the same token, Terps fans have to be wondering what kind of upgrade they got. Edsall is 74-70 and his best season ever just ended with an 8-5 record; Friedgen was 75-50, led Maryland to a 9-4 record and bowl win this year, and he was told to clean out his office).

Maryland's last BCS game was 2001. UConn, of course, just got back from the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (although not with their coach, who reportedly took a different flight to Baltimore and neglected to tell his players he was leaving). The Terrapins have a bigger stadium than Connecticut, at a capacity of 54,000, but their average home attendance this year was 39,168 while the Huskies drew 38,248 per game to Rentschler Field. The ACC has more money than the Big East, but according to this report from FanHouse last month, UConn spent nearly $5 million more on football last year than Maryland. Edsall also has an easier path to a league championship in the Big East than he does in the ACC, as was evident this year.

So why did Edsall leave?

Well, it was no secret that he was looking to get out of Storrs. There's a reason his name has been mentioned in the pool of candidates for just about every job opening the past few years, including Miami, Minnesota and Florida this year. Sometimes that's just media speculation, but oftentimes it's because a coach's agent is floating his client's name out there. This case was much more the latter than the former.

It's also no secret that Edsall and UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway -- who didn't hire him -- weren't exactly golfing buddies. Though the Huskies' facilities are top-notch and on par with anything in the Big East, salaries for Edsall's assistants were surprisingly low and a sore point for him. The Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner reports that Edsall didn't like some stricter admissions policies the school was implementing.

At Maryland, Edsall will be closer to more fertile recruiting grounds than he was in New England, where he thrived by finding diamonds in the rough. But if he was looking to escape the shadow of legendary basketball coaches that he operated under in Storrs, he sure didn't achieve that by going to another hoops-mad college where Gary Williams is the larger-than-life figure.

You can't paint Edsall as disloyal, or a guy who was only using UConn as a steppingstone. He led the program for 12 years, an eternity these days in college sports, and is the only football coach the school has ever known at the FBS level. In many ways, he is UConn football, and there's no real obvious candidate to succeed him.

A lot of people thought starting an FBS program in Storrs was folly, but Edsall took the Huskies to five bowl games and two league co-championships, including the first-ever BCS berth this season. He should always be remembered for the poise and grace he displayed during last year's Jasper Howard tragedy, and UConn fans should be grateful for all he did for their team.

But here the Huskies sit, at the highest point they've ever been less than 24 hours after playing in the Fiesta Bowl. And still Edsall chose to leave for what looks like mostly a lateral move. You have to wonder if he thinks Connecticut has already reached its ceiling as a program.

That's the most distressing part of this news for UConn fans.

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