By Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:29 AM
Two weeks ago, Kevin Anderson, Maryland's first-year athletic director, explained his decision to fire Ralph Friedgen as the school's football coach in part by stating that he no longer believed Friedgen could take the Terrapins program from "good to great."
On Monday, Anderson will introduce Randy Edsall of Connecticut as the 34th head football coach in Maryland history, a decision that struck a significant portion of the program's fan base - including many prominent athletic department donors - as the antithesis of the athletic director's stated goal.
Edsall met briefly Sunday night with the holdovers from Friedgen's coaching staff and informed them he planned to bring three members of his staff at Connecticut - offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, running backs coach Terry Richardson and special teams coordinator Lyndon Johnson - with him to College Park, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.
The source said Edsall told the Maryland coaches he would keep an open mind in regard to keeping the rest of them on board. Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown has interviewed for the same position at Vanderbilt, as well as for the head coaching position at Elon, according to the source.
Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was considered a front-runner until late last week but his chances diminished considerably within the past 48 hours, according to four individuals with knowledge of the situation. Three of the sources are close to the Maryland athletic department; one is close to Leach.
Regarding Leach, one person with knowledge of the school's search for a new head football coach said Maryland "got cold feet."
"They wanted to make the conservative, safe, non-confrontational hire," this individual said. "That's the bottom line."
The source and others contacted for this story did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of Maryland, Edsall or Leach.
Edsall, 52, compiled a 74-70 record in 12 seasons at Connecticut, including five bowl appearances and a share of two Big East titles.
The Huskies concluded an 8-5 campaign with a 48-20 loss Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl, their first Bowl Championship Series berth in program history.
The 2010 Big East coach of the year, Edsall stands as the winningest coach in Connecticut program history and the one who guided the Huskies through the transition from division I-AA status. He was 1-16 against ranked opponents during his time at Connecticut.
Edsall, who signed a five-year contract with the Huskies in February 2008, will owe Connecticut a $400,000 buyout. His base salary for the past season was $350,000.
Responding to the announcement of Edsall's hire Sunday night, numerous Maryland football supporters and high-ranking athletic department boosters expressed severe disappointment and were skeptical that the choice of Edsall was a match for the lofty goals Anderson previously set forth in his public comments regarding the program's next football coach.
"This was a good football team, and I believe it can be great," Anderson said Dec. 20. "And so we're going to bring the best person in here to get to that greatness and to sustain it."
Hiring Edsall "is a ripple, at best," one high-ranking Maryland athletic department donor said. "It certainly doesn't send a message of a transformative hire from good to great at all."
Friedgen, a two-time ACC coach of the year, was 13-20 against ranked opponents at Maryland, including wins over four ranked foes in 2008.
The day after Maryland's Military Bowl victory, Leach interviewed with the search committee charged with finding Maryland's next football coach, and that interview went well, according to two sources close to the athletic department. Leach met with Anderson and first-year university President Wallace D. Loh on Thursday evening, the sources said.
Leach, 49, had an 84-43 record in 10 seasons at Texas Tech, including 10 bowl appearances and an 11-2 finish in 2008. His prolific "Air Raid" offense made for high-scoring games and an exciting brand of football, something that could arouse a diminished fan base at Maryland.
But throughout the search process, there has been a faction at Maryland that has opposed Leach's hiring, citing concerns about certain aspects of his recent history, several sources close to the athletic department said.
Texas Tech suspended Leach indefinitely in late 2009 over allegations he mistreated a player, Adam James, who had suffered a concussion. James is the son of ESPN analyst and former NFL player Craig James. The James family contends Leach ordered Adam James to stand for hours in a darkened shed instead of practicing. Leach disputed that version of the events.
Leach was fired Dec. 30, 2009, and days later, he sued Texas Tech for wrongful termination. Leach filed a libel and defamation lawsuit against ESPN this past November, claiming its coverage of the story was willfully negligent and damaging to Leach's reputation.
On Saturday, several prominent Maryland athletic department boosters grew concerned that Leach - the candidate they preferred as Friedgen's successor - was falling out of contention and reached out to Anderson and Loh expressing support for Leach's hire.
But after Edsall met Sunday with the search committee, Anderson and Loh, Anderson announced his decision to members of the football team at a 6 p.m. meeting.
The choice has left many college football followers perplexed - both inside the Maryland community and out. Tom Lemming, a national recruiting analyst for CBS College Sports, wondered whether Leach has been "blackballed" from the college football coaching ranks because of the events in his recent past.
Lemming called Edsall a good recruiter and a solid coach, but said in a telephone interview Sunday that whoever eventually "has the courage to hire [Leach] will make all the other schools look bad for not hiring him."