Athletic Director Kevin Anderson remains firmly behind the man he brought aboard after his firing of Ralph Friedgen, the popular Maryland alum who was named the Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year last season.
“I know I hired the right person for this job,” Anderson said in a phone interview this week.
No doubt, moods can swing quickly, and an upset of No. 8 Clemson on Saturday in College Park would certainly help. But as the leader of the program, Edsall should do more than just take comfort in Anderson’s support. No matter how he truly feels about players recruited by the former staff, Edsall must try to make the situation work, which requires better communication on his part.
If Edsall plans to remain essentially the program’s lone voice, then he has to be sharper in the spotlight. After spending the past 12 years in relative obscurity at Connecticut, Edsall, who this week declined to revisit the problems he has encountered, is on a bigger stage, and he could benefit from a few adjustments in his approach.
Since receiving favorable national attention for winning its season opener over Miami while debuting glitzy new uniforms, Maryland football has been the subject of considerably less positive buzz.
Things took an especially bad turn after Edsall, speaking with reporters following an embarrassing 38-7 home loss to Temple, sounded as if the program needed to be rebuilt. Predictably, that message wasn’t received well by fans, considering the Terrapins won nine games under Friedgen a year ago. With sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien, last season’s ACC rookie of the year, and standout senior linebacker Kenny Tate returning, Maryland definitely had postseason aspirations entering the season.
Given an opportunity to clarify his comments a few days later, Edsall jumped in deeper, insinuating that Friedgen ran an undisciplined operation. Maryland wasn’t perfect under Friedgen, as evidenced by the team’s academic shortcomings. The Terrapins, however, weren’t some outlaw bunch, either.
With that backdrop, Friedgen recently told a Baltimore radio station, “I’ve burned my diploma.” Although he later said he was only joking, he’s clearly still angry about being dumped by his alma mater, and Edsall’s ill-advised comments didn’t help.
“Everybody has a different style . . . but I definitely do not think that [criticizing Friedgen] was Randy’s intent,” Anderson said. “People read into it that way, but I know. He talked to me. That wasn’t his intent.”
Doesn’t matter. While Anderson may know Edsall’s true intent, Maryland fans know only what the coach says publicly. Edsall has prohibited assistant coaches from speaking with reporters. Media access to players is more limited than under Friedgen. The majority of Maryland’s message is coming from Edsall. It’s on him to get it out correctly. The person chiefly responsible for re-energizing the fan base shouldn’t also be the one to demoralize it.
One player, displeased about what he perceives as Edsall’s overbearing image rules, has spoken out against them anonymously. A degree of rumbling was inevitable because regime change is messy by nature, and “when you have new leadership, there are changes,” Anderson said. “Sometimes, people get frustrated.”
That’s true, which is why the most successful coaches, after taking new jobs, do their best recruiting work with players already in the program. They share their vision, usually with a few key upperclassmen, encouraging them to help spread the word. That doesn’t mean everyone will go all in on a coach’s plan. Peer reinforcement always helps, though.
Maybe Edsall tried. If he did, it’s time to give it another shot, because he can’t simply replace the whole roster with free agents next season. This isn’t the NFL. He can only accomplish so much in one recruiting cycle.
The majority of Maryland’s players came to play for Friedgen for four years, so some of them may be less than giddy about their new reality. As the highest-paid adult in the room, Edsall has to bring them together.
Edsall faces another big test in how he resolves the quarterback controversy he created last week, benching O’Brien in favor of sophomore C.J. Brown in the loss to Georgia Tech. Compared to how he performed last season, O’Brien has not played well. The reality is, maybe he’s a bad fit for offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s system.
Still, if Edsall chooses Brown to start against Clemson, the man who replaced the ACC’s coach of the year would be choosing to bench the ACC’s rookie of the year. Should that happen, Edsall would give his strongest indication yet that this is his program.
Seasons hinge on such choices, and Edsall either needs his decisions to work out better or he needs to learn how to explain them more deftly.