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Maryland football: Baton pass to Randy Edsall could not have gone worse

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My friend the Maryland apologist, ever the optimist about all things Terrapins, described the awfulness of Saturday like this: “Hey, at least the coach is finally taking responsibility for how bad things are. That’s progress.”

Really, what is going on behind that bronze turtle outside the Gossett Team House? Because after a really bad Boston College team dragged Maryland all over the field before the smallest announced crowd in more than a decade, there is only one question left in College Park: Has there even been a worse baton pass in the history of college football than Ralph Friedgen to Randy Edsall?

Phil Fulmer to Lane Kiffen Kiffin was bad. But for rough transfers of power, this one is more akin to Brutus taking over for Julius Caesar.

Maryland has beaten almost no one since its opener against Miami. The Terrapins stand at 2-6, needing to win their last four games to reach .500 and become bowl-eligible. The multicolored Terps, whose uniforms made such a big splash in their season opener, are now openly mocked, mostly along these lines: “Boy, they sure look good getting their be-hinds kicked.”

Following the mishandled ouster of Friedgen last December, Edsall was in a “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t” situation, no matter what happened.

If Edsall won big, everyone would have said, “He did it with Ralph’s players. Big deal.” But given the way things have gone so far, the talk is more, “These guys went 9-4 under Ralph last season. What’s this guy doing?”

When it came to luxury suites and selling tickets, Edsall also gets somewhat of a pass here. Bear Bryant reincarnated isn’t going to sell seats for Maryland-Towson in September.

But Saturday’s abject eyesore, where lower-level tickets at Byrd Stadium were going for a penny on StubHub? That’s more than frigid, rotten weather. That’s unacceptable.

You can put only so much on the regression of benched sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien, who is probably lining up suitors elsewhere like any disenchanted, talented kid might do. The same goes for the season-ending injury to linebacker Kenny Tate.

Something more than injuries and atrocious execution feels afoot.

Edsall as an X’s and O’s guy might yet be a great coach, though his 1-19 record against top-25 opponents hurts an otherwise impressive résumé. But it’s Edsall the Grand Pooh-Bah of Maryland Football that I’m worried about.

He just seems oblivious to the market he is now coaching in.

Rules and restrictions within reason are fine, but this whole “one voice” shtick doesn’t work here.

Kevin Anderson didn’t hire you to coach at the Citadel or VMI or even West Point, the athletic director’s former post. He hired you to coach 20 minutes away from the nation’s capital at a state-funded university, where students are allowed to dress how they like and express themselves individually while still respecting the social mores of the larger college community. Forcing your players to trim their locks and facial hair and hide their platinum ropes and diamond earrings, lest they face punitive measures, is a little too Pleasantville. They’re not selling Italian wool at Brooks Brothers; they’re trying to sell out college football stadiums.

And some of those kids actually have bright, articulate things to say about themselves and your football team. But Edsall doesn’t let most of them talk, which is dumb.

Maryland is one of nearly a dozen universities in greater Washington that competes in Division I athletics and it competes regionally for recruits against ACC and Big East schools, along with Penn State. Restricting access to athletes — except for the on-message players deemed “safe” — and forbidding assistant coaches from speaking publicly after August’s media day means fewer prospective student-athletes get to know about the program and what a wonderful experience playing in College Park can be. That’s what “one voice” means in practical terms.

Now, that’s fine if your name is John Thompson Jr., and you are taking your teams to the Final Four in the mid-1980s. You can tell the media to go to hell and sequester your players in faraway hotels on the road that honor 9 p.m. curfews and 10 p.m. bed checks. But as J.T. III and the Culture of Restricted Access on the Hilltop are also finding out, if you’re not among the sport’s elite, you better start selling your program with more than a Twitter account announcing what color scheme you’ll be donning while getting blown out on Saturday.

More than a 2-6 record, Edsall should be concerned about rumblings of player discontent within the program. That’s something you see all the time in pro sports, but rarely do college kids go to any lengths to get out a message.

I had a feeling Edsall might be losing parts of the locker room when I asked one player if he was allowed to wear jewelry outside of the Gossett Team House and he replied, coldly: “This is a state school. He can’t do that. That’s against the law.”

But I had no idea it would be this bad. Part of it is Edsall’s inability to build a bridge from Friedgen’s era to his own.

Too often he’s vaguely painted what came before him as some renegade program. Friedgen’s tenure had its warts, but it wasn’t SMU East, not by a long shot.

Maybe this is merely that first year of growing pains for Edsall, when some underclassmen that didn’t buy in transfer and new kids who get with the program are brought in. Maybe Edsall learns his taskmaster ways don’t translate everywhere, that embracing change doesn’t just mean selling multiple jerseys for Under Armour.

Maybe the “one voice” needs to be shelved like the jerseys that come in five color schemes but none including names, especially because one of the reasons kids don’t have their names on their backs at Maryland this season is about the cost of embroidery (times five).

Or maybe Edsall needs to admit he has yet to extract a better effort from many key players returning from a 9-4 team. Maybe what was here before him needed a tuneup, not an engine overhaul.

If he can’t admit that and turn things around next season, how much longer will that one voice be heard, how many more losses before someone important in College Park — or someone very high up at Under Armour — decides the Randy Man can’t?

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