Maryland football coach Randy Edsall needs his key recruit to stop the losses


Maryland Coach Randy Edsall, center, won’t be having any more in-game talks with quarterback Danny O'Brien, right. (Toni L. Sandys)
Mike Wise
Columnist February 13, 2012

Randy Edsall lost an asset Monday, a team player who wore his uniform proudly and everyone respected during his long, storied history as a Maryland Terrapin.

That’s right, Testudo is transferring. The school mascot is going to the Galapagos, where tortoises are allowed to wear their shell backward, have diamond-studded earrings and be themselves, not just robotic mascots for by-the-book taskmasters.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

“I’m disappointed in Testudo’s decision,” Edsall said in a statement. “He told me that he’s not committed to our program, that he’s not ‘all in.’ Testudo wants fresh water elsewhere. I wish him well.”

In all seriousness, the departures of quarterback Danny O’Brien, which became official Monday, and offensive lineman Max Garcia and linebacker Mario Rowson are just the latest defections from the Edsall-led football team in recent weeks.

Garcia “showed great promise” Edsall said. “But after two seasons in College Park, Max is still homesick. He wants to transfer to a school closer to home” in Norcross, Ga., “so his family can see him play.”

Because everybody makes it through four semesters in a faraway land when they’re that homesick, right?

Edsall has technically lost 12 players since the season ended with the departures of O’Brien, Garcia, the team’s starting left tackle, and Rowson. Since he replaced Ralph Friedgen 13 months ago, he has lost 24 players to something other than graduation or injury.

That’s not normal turnover for a program undergoing a coaching transition; that’s Southwest Airlines adding a flight out of BWI for all the kids who really just wanted to be someplace else than in Edsall’s doghouse.

The big football news in College Park this offseason indeed was securing a special recruit that helped soothe the percolating tempers of Terrapin Nation. But it wasn’t Stefon Diggs of Good Counsel, the top high school wide receiver in the country. It was Mike Locksley, the former New Mexico coach who covered Maryland and Virginia like a blanket when he was the Terps’ running backs coach and recruiting coordinator more than a decade ago.

Locksley is the guy who successfully recruited for Ron Zook at Florida and Illinois, which had rivals fuming over landing one of the top 15 classes in the country after the Illini were 1-15 in their two previous Big Ten seasons.

For Edsall, Locksley is damage control. And if the Diggs signing is any indication, it’s working beautifully. It almost obscures the O’Brien transfer and the fact that Edsall seems to have alienated not just a couple of players but an entire row of lockers inside the Gossett Team House, along with the team’s fans.

At the moment, at least until Edsall begins winning more than two games a season, Locksley is the key to Edsall remaining in College Park. I remember Kevin Anderson, the athletic director, lamenting in September of last year in his office about the amount of quality recruits from the Washington area that ended up on the Illinois roster. “We can’t lose all the kids from this area any more,” he said.

In hindsight, it makes sense to go get the guy who helped get those kids to Illinois.

Locksley is tapped into the area more than almost anyone, just as Maryland men’s basketball assistant Delonte Hill, the former AAU coach of the D.C. Assault, is tapped into the area’s best young basketball players.

Which brings us to the main difference in the public perception of men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon, another first-year coach rightly lauded for the job he is doing at Maryland, and Edsall, who can’t seem to make anyone happy. It’s not merely Gary Williams giving Turgeon the stamp of approval; it’s about how many people Edsall has turned off.

As a longtime observer of Maryland athletics opined Monday, via text message: “Turgeon: self-deprecating, humble. Edsall: awkward, stiff, one way.”

The only way to even the playing field for Edsall is to make his good cop secure great players that end up camouflaging his inflexibility, the kind of rigidity that made O’Brien, the ACC rookie of the year in 2010, and two more players leave school Monday.

Irrespective of what good Diggs’s signing brings, mass defections from Maryland’s football program have to stop sooner than later for Edsall to make it to 2013.

The good news: the Post’s Eric Prisbell just got off the phone with Testudo. He’s staying.

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