In the eight months since replacing the fired Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, Edsall has confronted the loss of three scholarships because of a poor Academic Progress Rate score, the reduction of 2½ weekly practice hours because of practice-time transgressions by the previous staff and the departure of a dozen eligible scholarship players for various reasons. But the biggest flap among fans heading into preseason camp was over Edsall’s team rules — no earrings, neat facial hair, etc. — and his decision not to have players’ last names on the backs of jerseys.
“If we don’t have structure and we don’t have discipline and if we don’t have accountability, well, we ain’t winning very many games,” Edsall has said of the tenets of his coaching philosophy.
At Miami, all Golden has encountered is a scandal so noteworthy in terms of breadth and sordid details that it trumps all others this year in what has been an offseason of scandal in college football. The 42-year-old former Virginia defensive coordinator has seen his program mentioned in the same breath as a Ponzi scheme, prostitutes and the NCAA’s harshest punishment, the so-called death penalty. He has watched Sports Illustrated, for the second time in 16 years, call for the program to be abolished. And he has maintained optimism publicly.
“I have always been hopeful for our season,” Golden said. “I am excited. We are not going to start feeling sorry for ourselves. Nobody else is.”
Golden said it was a relief once the NCAA ruled last week that eight players — including last season’s starting quarterback, Jacory Harris; star linebacker Sean Spence; and talented safety Ray-Ray Armstrong — would be ineligible to play in the Maryland game because they received extra benefits from rogue booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, as alleged in a Yahoo Sports investigation. That allowed Golden to finalize his depth chart after a delay caused by the NCAA’s investigation of his program.
While Miami, which at full strength should be among the ACC’s most talented teams, will be short-handed Monday, all but three players — Armstrong (four games), tight end Dyron Dye (four) and defensive lineman Oliver Vernon (six) — will regain their eligibility after the first game. (Wide receiver Aldarius Johnson also has been suspended indefinitely because of a violation of team rules.)
The larger concern is the future. The NCAA investigation could be lengthy and the penalties could be harsh because allegations involve 72 former or current players who may have received cash and gifts from Shapiro, and at least six coaches at the school who may have known about the booster’s behavior.
During the week, several ACC coaches, including Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson and Edsall, expressed a sense of empathy for Golden, who has said he was unaware of the depth of the allegations before preseason camp. Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Golden’s college coach and longtime mentor, expressed confidence in Golden’s ability to rebuild the program, telling the Associated Press, “If this can be done, Al will get it done.”
From a national perspective, Miami’s turmoil has been the story line leading up the game, eclipsing the debut of Edsall, who encounters his own set of challenges as he sets out to lead the program to its first ACC title since 2001.
So with heightened expectations, Edsall begins his Maryland career with a capable roster that includes quarterback Danny O’Brien, last season’s ACC rookie of the year, and heralded safety-turned-linebacker Kenny Tate. What’s more, new Under Armour-designed uniforms and what players describe as an “exciting” offense have the potential to recast the image of a program yearning for national attention. The schedule is more difficult, though, with a nonconference game at FedEx Field against Notre Dame and two marquee opponents — Miami and West Virginia — offering an early litmus test for Edsall.
But between a Maryland coach who has divulged little about his new schemes and a Miami coach who must adapt to playing several backups because of NCAA suspensions, trying to project what will play out Monday night is difficult. The one commonality between two coaches facing two distinct challenges is that both will benefit from the element of surprise.
“We have increased the variables exponentially,” Golden said. “Both sides have increased the variables with new staffs, new coordinators, many new faces. And on top of that we are dealing with this other thing.”