Maryland football’s accountability needs to start at the top

John Feinstein
Columnist October 31, 2011

Let’s give credit where credit is due: Maryland football Coach Randy Edsall is learning.

“Ultimately,” he said Saturday after the Terrapins’ latest embarrassing loss. “I am the guy who is responsible for this.”

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

If his team isn’t progressing on the field, at least Edsall is making some slow progress off the field.

Someday, Maryland fans may look back at the miserable scene that unfolded at Byrd Stadium just before Halloween 2011 and talk about the 28-17 loss to Boston College as the moment when the football program hit rock bottom before its turnaround began. Of course, a lot of people thought the 38-7 loss to Temple in September was that moment.

Temple is a much better football team than Boston College. The Eagles are flat-out bad, a team that hadn’t beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team all season and had lost at home a few weeks back to Duke.

So that’s where Maryland football has fallen to at this moment: getting hammered on its home field by a team that couldn’t beat Duke. The weather was miserable, and the Terrapins were worse. The Eagles turned over the ball four times and missed two chip-shot field goal attempts and still won with ease.

Is Maryland banged up? Absolutely. Of course, after Maryland’s lone victory over an FBS team this season, no one talked much about Miami being short-handed because of suspensions.

Edsall is rapidly finding out that coaching at a school a few miles from the nation’s capital is a little bit different than coaching in Storrs, Conn. When he tried the, “this is a process” line after the Temple game, he was jumped on so hard that three days later he circled back to claim he wasn’t implying that Maryland was rebuilding coming off a 9-4 season and a prior regime whose coach had a far better record at Maryland (75-50) than Edsall had at Connecticut (74-70).

Edsall claimed he wasn’t trying to throw anyone under the bus and then did the impossible by throwing all 350 pounds of Ralph Friedgen so far under the bus one couldn’t even see his feet. A week later when Maryland’s defense played well against Georgia Tech, Edsall said it was because they were so well-coached.

Edsall appears to have an ego that belies a career record of 76-76. Joe Paterno, with 409 wins, has less ego than Edsall. He comes from the charming Bill Parcells-Bill Belichick-Tom Coughlin school of coaches — Edsall played and coached under Coughlin — that preaches football not as a means to an end but as the end. He also clearly believes in self-importance — no one speaks for the coaching staff except me — as a way of life.

Of course Belichick, Parcells and Coughlin have won Super Bowls. Edsall has won the Music City Bowl.

Edsall has second-guessed everyone connected to Maryland football except himself. Forget the Friedgen-bashing. Friedgen didn’t do a good job his last few years with academics and things probably did get a little bit out of hand inside the program at the end.

Of course truly great coaches don’t make excuses and don’t blame others. Edsall has not only bashed Friedgen, he’s managed to undermine the confidence of quarterback Danny O’Brien, who was the ACC rookie of the year last season. Edsall has gotten on his players so much about their appearance that they’ve forgotten minor things such as how to block, tackle and run.

Athletic Director Kevin Anderson stood up for his coach in an interview Saturday with The Post’s Liz Clarke. That’s what Anderson should do. For one thing, he hired Edsall, leaving many people wondering exactly how Edsall was a step up from Friedgen. For another thing, no coach should be judged — good or bad — after eight games or after one season. It takes two seasons — at least — to get a handle on where a program is headed. Jim Zorn was 6-2 after eight games as coach of the Washington Redskins and plans for the statue were already under way. Joe Gibbs was 0-5 in his first five games.

Edsall knows how to coach. You don’t take a program from what was then-Division I-AA to I-A successfully without knowing how to coach. That said, his comments after Maryland’s loss to Florida State that he and his staff needed to recruit players who were faster and stronger was not only another slap at the past but also silly. What’s the alternative? Recruiting players who are slower and weaker?

Perhaps the real clue to who Edsall is came on the weekend he was hired when he didn’t even meet with his Connecticut players to tell them he was leaving. Edsall, 53, appears to have a lot to learn about how to deal with people and, perhaps most important, how to handle adversity.

On a scale of 1 to 10, he scored a zero after the Temple game. After Boston College, he dodged most questions — at one point saying he needed to look at film when asked to talk about his personal frustrations with the season — but he at least took responsibility for Maryland’s season-long struggles and complete unpreparedness Saturday.

That’s progress.

As it turns out, Edsall’s comment after the Temple game that all of this is a process was accurate.

The position where Maryland most needs to improve right now is head coach.

For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.

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