Randy Edsall looks to right the ship
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In the first five minutes of an interview, it becomes clear that Maryland head coach Randy Edsall does not Google himself.
"I tell you what," Edsall said. "Things are great."
Edsall took over a team that went 9-4 in 2010 and led them to a 2-10 record last year. In his 14 months as head coach, 24 Terrapins have transferred to play elsewhere, including starting quarterback Danny O'Brien and left offensive tackle Max Garcia. Edsall is on his second set of coordinators, one of whom, Mike Locksley, is fresh off a train wreck of a tenure as head coach at New Mexico.
Yet over the course of an hour in his office in the Gossett Team House, Edsall sounds neither beleaguered, nor like a B-leaguer.
"The enthusiasm, the energy, the passion for what we're doing -- the guys that want to be here at Maryland have the Maryland pride that we are establishing," Edsall said. "It's been great."
The local media works him over. One Washington Post columnist, the estimable Sally Jenkins, mocked him as a modern-day Captain Queeg. The other Washington Post columnist, the best-selling John Feinstein, didn't use the Hollywood metaphor. He just demanded that Edsall be fired. After one season.
"A lot of people think perception is reality," Edsall said.
This is not the case of Reaganesque there-must-be-a-pony-somewhere optimism. Edsall maintained that what has happened since he arrived from UConn is a typical transition. Coaches like George O'Leary of UCF (for whom Edsall worked at Georgia Tech) and Mike London of Virginia have called him and told him they had more players transfer in their first seasons than he did.
"There were some [players] who didn't think what we were doing was the best for them," Edsall said. "They decided to move forward. Good luck to them. There's a majority of them who stayed here and they are going to reap the benefits."
Edsall got blindsided after he arrived -- once in January 2011 when Maryland lost three scholarships for academic failures, and once last July when the NCAA ruled that his predecessor, Ralph Friedgen, had practiced his players beyond the 20-hour limit in 2010. The NCAA limited the Terps to a 17½-hour week in 2011. Try that with a new team.
"You cut back meeting time," Edsall said. "You cut back practice time. You cut back a lot of things."
Compared to last offseason, the Terps have had a good year. Recruiting got rave reviews. After a rash of injuries in 2011, Maryland lost only one player during spring ball, and that was to a sports hernia. The team GPA, in each of the past two semesters and cumulatively, is the highest it has been in eight years.
More important, the spring went off without dissension. Even though the attrition left the Terps with 58 players, only two of them quarterbacks. The second, Ricky Schultz, had been a senior team manager who played Division II football at Shepherd before transferring to Maryland. Edsall called him the spring "MVP," largely because Schultz ran the second-team offense without throwing up all over himself.
After the spring game, senior offensive lineman Justin Gilbert told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, "I hate saying it, but now that the guys who don't want to be here are gone, we can really focus on next season. We don't have any distractions anymore. Everybody who's here wants to be here. I really saw that this spring with guys. The chemistry was better. There was no cancers on the team. Everybody was all together."
Edsall loved that quote. He believed that it is evidence that what he is trying to build is taking shape. The two-win season did not shake Edsall's confidence. Like most coaches, he has his way of doing things. He calls it holding his players accountable. They must go to class. They must fight their own battles with professors. They must live by the university housing rules. And the same rules apply to the best players and the walk-ons, which you might expect from a quarterback who rarely got on the field at Syracuse in the late '70s.
Edsall graduated in 1980 and began coaching at his alma mater right away. He has been in the college game for 27 of the past 31 years.
"This isn't the first time I've been on a horse," Edsall said. " The people who don't survive are the ones who panic and overreact. I haven't lost any confidence whatsoever. And I haven't lost any enthusiasm or passion for what we're going to be able to do here. It's just that you come in and you see, here's what we've got to do, and now you go about it and you fix it."
The question is whether he will have time. When he took over at UConn in 1998 with the charge of bringing the Huskies from the FCS to the Big East, he needed four years to reach .500 and five years to climb over it.
Nowadays, three years is the new five, unless it's the two years that Turner Gill got at Kansas. No one does methodical anymore, especially a school, like Maryland, which shares a media market with two NFL teams.
"But you know what?" Edsall challenged. "That's where, as a coach, what you have to do is you just have to stick to your guns and understand that if you want to have a program, and you want the program to stand the test of time, you better implement it and do it right from the get-go."
For all of his experience in coaching, Edsall has been overmatched in dealing with the local media, which vilified him for his record and for the players who left. He couldn't have handled O'Brien's transfer more poorly. Edsall refused to give O'Brien a full release and refused to say why. That made O'Brien look like a victim, especially when the university administration stepped in and directed Edsall to give O'Brien an unconditional release.
He groused that the media is looking for "the next Watergate," the same complaint that has been made by every public figure in Washington since Deep Throat. But Edsall is learning. The athletic department has begun to produce more of its own videos, to get its own message out. That message, as improbable as it sounds until September, is that everything at Maryland is great.