Keenan McCardell never asks families to search his name and sift through the 17 years of NFL success, but it almost always happens anyway. Eyes widen whenever the Maryland wide receivers coach enters a recruit’s home, not from the teenager but from the parents who remember watching him play. “Don’t worry about it,” McCardell will say, as the adults reach for computers to educate their children. “I’m an old guy now.”
Now seven years removed from his final NFL season, McCardell has inherited a Terrapins receiving corps brimming with potential, including several players dreaming of long, productive professional careers like he enjoyed. He can still connect with the youth of today, using his experience to bridge the gap, but mostly the highlights speak for themselves: an NFL career in which he played for six teams, caught nearly 900 passes, recorded more than 11,000 receiving yards and scored 63 touchdowns.
He had spent two seasons coaching receivers with the Washington Redskins, but moving to the college ranks represented an entirely different challenge. There were recruitments to manage, academics to monitor, students to guide. It feels different from the NFL. Teams can dip into the free agency pool and pluck ideal candidates. “It’s about the dollars and cents for them,” McCardell said. “Here it’s about the best fit for kids, educationally and football-wise. It’s a little different, but I actually like it.”
On Friday afternoon, McCardell met members of the media for the first time since being hired last month. He drew an immediate crowd, cameras and recorders swarmed around him to ask about moving beyond life in the NFL. He has a 16-year-old daughter who is committed to play college volleyball at Houston. He remembers her stressed about texting and e-mailing her future coaches. Now he knows what it’s like on the other side.
Naturally personable, McCardell has accepted the changes in stride, because with National Signing Day and spring football on the horizon when he was hired, there was little time except to dive right in. Somewhat underrated after college – he was drafted out of UNLV by Washington in the 12th round of the 1991 NFL draft – McCardell relishes unearthing hidden talent, and for this he looks forward to the challenge of recruiting. But he also walked into arguably the most talented position room on the Maryland football team, tasked with guiding the likes of Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, Marcus Leak, Nigel King and Levern Jacobs, all of whom have enjoyed prolonged success in College Park.
“I looked at some of the talent level and when I got here, everybody told me how talented everybody was,” McCardell said. “I had done some research earlier. I was like, ‘Woah, they are talented.’ It’s up to me to make sure that talent comes out. That’s what I want to do.”
When former receivers coach Lee Hull accepted the head coaching job at Morgan State, Coach Randy Edsall revisited a list he had compiled through the years, of candidates for potential assistant jobs. He knew McCardell was free, having been fired from the Redskins in 2012, and remembered him from their days together in Jacksonville. Edsall was the defensive backs coach then, at his first and only NFL job, while McCardell was on the cusp of stardom.
“We had to go against him each and every day,” Edsall said Friday. “I just saw what kind of person he was, what kind of player he was, work ethic, then when we had the ability to bring him in here, sit him down, interview him, talk to him about his coaching philosophy and what his expectations for the people he coaches, I just felt it was a very good fit.”