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Maryland's new football hire, Randy Edsall, doesn't look much different from Ralph Friedgen

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:35 AM

Wait. Hold up. Help me understand what just happened in College Park.

Maryland's stated desire to take the next step in college football, to gracelessly move reliable Ralph Friedgen and the past aside for a shake-and-bake exotic candidate - someone more vibrant, younger, (go ahead, say it) trimmer, a guy who would simultaneously woo five-star recruits and fill empty luxury suites - has now culminated in the hiring of a decent Big East coach whose record is a shade over .500 in 12 seasons?

From a school where basketball will always be king?

Randy Edsall, whose Connecticut kids were waxed in their bowl game by Oklahoma on New Year's night - that's Maryland's new man?

That's what the athletic-director-in-training Kevin Anderson meant when he said, "strategic business decision," in response to firing Friedgen after 10 years, seven bowls and five seasons of nine or more victories, which took, oh, 25 years for his five predecessors to accomplish? That's what the university-president-in-training approved?

One quick question: Are you serious?!

They didn't get swashbuckling Mike Leach and his rocket-fueled "Air Raid"offense? They didn't land the big fish, the It Coach, Mr. BCS-Or-Bust himself?

Okay. Good. They didn't need him.

The smartest guy in the room (ask Mike, he'll tell you) would have been the absolute wrong choice for Maryland.

The coach who once coarsely blamed a loss on his Texas Tech players' "fat little girlfriends," whose ongoing, defamation-of-character lawsuits against two Maryland business partners (an NCAA member institution and ESPN) was not worth the risk.

Especially after two of the most embarrassing weeks in Maryland athletics history, where Anderson was the main antagonist in a klutzy, rottenly-directed drama, "How Not To Lose a Coach in 10 Days."

On Friday night I asked a Board of Trustees member, on condition of anonymity, what he thought of a possible Leach hiring. "Terps alum want the high flying passing circus," is what the trustee dismissively text-messaged back.

Ralph was the musty sofa in the corner of your parents' living room. It smelled, but it was still comfortable. Felt like home.

Terrapin Club members whom Friedgen forgot to glad-hand didn't want old and comfortable anymore; they wanted the glitz.

And Kevin Anderson went out and got them . . . an Edsall.

A week after alienating the portion of the fan base angry over how Friedgen's firing was botched, the Get-Rid-of-Ralph crowd waited anxiously for that high-profile hire that would shut everyone up.

Yes, showing at least a penchant for symmetry, Anderson has now infuriated every Maryland faction. The people furious over Friedgen's ouster could at least find solace in a name. Instead, they got Ralph II. Edsall actually was on the same Georgia Tech staff as Friedgen in 1998, as the defensive coordinator. He did the same thing at Connecticut as Friedgen did at Maryland, taking an afterthought of a football program and making it part of the conversation.

In fact, after Friedgen, who more and more are finally coming around to understand should be the man still coaching at Maryland, the person I feel most sorry for is Edsall.

After the new brain trust wisely got cold feet bringing in Leach (who, by the way, was not interviewed by a single school other than Maryland since his firing in 2009), Edsall is now the unsexy choice who has to bridge all that animosity between Terrapin Nation and its embattled leaders.

What exactly happened with Leach, whom the school tactlessly brought in the same day Friedgen was coaching his last game?

According to Post colleagues Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell, the decision-makers "got cold feet."

So they told the kid to go back to the safe thing - the long-term builder, not the instant-gratification dreamer.

They told him to find someone who understood the football coach will always be the second-most important coaching position at the school. Coaching football in College Park is coaching basketball at Notre Dame or football at UCLA or, yes, coaching football where Jim Calhoun coaches basketball.

In that vein, Edsall has a chance to save Anderson's job and prolong his own. See, high-flying offenses and eclectic minds don't fill up stadiums as much as victories and continued, measured progress.

After the Giants' victory over the Redskins at FedEx Field, Tom Coughlin spoke glowingly of Edsall, the coach considered a Coughlin prodigy and Coughlin's former quarterback at Syracuse.

"As soon as he was available, I worked hard to get him on my staff," Coughlin said. "So Randy got that job, huh? Good for him. He's a solid guy. Not flashy. Just a hard worker who gets it done."

Sounds like a guy who used to coach at Maryland, whose golf cart was the only identifiable vehicle parked in the half-empty lot by the Gossett Team House on Sunday afternoon, in the space that read, "Reserved for Ralph Friedgen."

Mike Leach would have moved the needle more nationally, but Randy Edsall makes more sense for Maryland. The safe, smart choice, like Ralph about 10 years ago, no?

This new era at Byrd Stadium already feels like the old one, doesn't it?

wisem@washpost.com

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