Randy Edsall introduced as Maryland's football coach as questions over Mike Leach remain for some fans

By Liz Clarke, Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 12:16 AM

Kevin Anderson has roiled the passions of numerous Terrapin supporters with his first major moves as Maryland athletic director, first in firing Ralph Friedgen and then for not bringing in the popular favorite as a successor.

But in introducing the school's 34th football coach on Monday, Anderson made clear that he got the man he wanted most, and Randy Edsall declared he had landed his "dream job."

Edsall's selection, announced Sunday night, deflated those Terps fans who had expected a coach with a bigger name and more impressive credentials to succeed Friedgen, who was fired with one year remaining on his contract shortly after being named ACC coach of the year for a second time in 10 years.

Nonetheless, while numerous boosters chafed Monday over the fact that Mike Leach, the controversial architect of Texas Tech's high powered offense "got away," it emerged from interviews with several sources close to the process that Leach, the only other man to interview on the College Park campus, was never the leading candidate. In the view of Anderson and top university officials, Edsall was the more impressive candidate.

Monday's proceedings offered an opportunity for Anderson, on the job since Oct. 1, to explain his choice and for Edsall, 52, to articulate his vision for injecting new life into a football team that struggled to find an audience despite a 9-4 record.

Anderson made his case first, citing Edsall's success in leading Connecticut from NCAA division I-AA team to two-time Big East champion over his 12-year tenure. Connecticut capped its 2010 regular season record of 8-4 with a 48-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the Huskies' first BCS berth in school history.

"This man is a builder," Anderson said. "He's a winner. And he's a champion."

Edsall called the opportunity to become Maryland's football coach a "dream job." Donning a red Maryland baseball cap, he recounted his many ties to Terrapin athletics despite his Pennsylvania roots and Syracuse education. Among them: The fact that he grew up 70 miles away (Glen Rock, Pa.); the fact that the first college football game he attended was at Byrd Stadium (Maryland versus Villanova in the 1970s); and the fact that his brother was a longtime ACC basketball official who more than once called a technical on Maryland's Gary Williams.

As for the task ahead, Edsall said he had come to College Park to win championships.

"We may not get one every year," Edsall said. "But we're going to work our darndest every day to get there, and we're going to work out darndest to be the best we can be in the classroom and the best we can be as people."

Moreover, Edsall promised that he and his staff would conduct a grass-roots campaign to embrace and energize Maryland supporters statewide.

"We want them to be proud of their state institution," Edsall said.

In announcing Friedgen's firing last month, Anderson called it "a strategic business decision."

Asked how he would gauge Edsall's success in that light, Anderson said: "What we're looking for is to elevate from being a third-place team to competing for the ACC championship. . . . This isn't just a football move; this is for the entire athletic department. With the success of football, the entire department will be successful. We'll be able to let a lot of young men and women become competitive because of the success in football."

Anderson would not say how long Edsall's contract was for, but he said the total compensation package on average would be worth about the same as Friedgen's, which was worth about $2 million annually.

"It was my job to hire the best person for the job, and I believe we've hired one of the best football coaches in this country. Now, there's a lot of people that don't agree with that," said Anderson, who added that he has received notes in support of Edsall's hire in addition to those that have been critical.

The seven-member search committee charged with finding Freidgen's successor was asked to identify three to five candidates that it endorsed, according to Barry Gossett, a member of the panel. Leach, who interviewed on campus Thursday, was among them.

On the day of Leach's interview, his wife, Sharon Leach, spent six hours with a real estate agent, at Maryland's urging, looking at houses around the area.

Deliberations were halted Friday night because of a medical emergency involving Anderson's brother-in-law and resumed late Saturday.

Edsall had long been on Anderson's short list, but the two hadn't spoken in person about the job until after Saturday's Fiesta Bowl, when Edsall called Anderson to say he was interested.

A source familiar with the search said Anderson had also wanted Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, to visit, but Malzahn wanted a guarantee that he would be offered the job. In addition, SMU's June Jones and Michigan's Rich Rodriguez (or their representatives) spoke with officials representing Maryland.

According to Anderson, Edsall was the sole candidate who made clear that he wanted to coach specifically at Maryland. Leach simply said he was "ready to be a football coach again."

Monday's news conference was held in the auditorium of the football team's field house. Edsall's wife and children sat on the front row, along with reporters. Scores of Terrapin boosters, as well as a handful of football players and coaches from other sports (including basketball's Williams and soccer's Sasho Cirovski) sat behind.

Anderson opened by declaring: "It's a great day to be a Terp!" Yet despite being twice punctuated by applause, the proceedings had a defensive air about them as Anderson fielded questions about how Edsall would raise the profile of Maryland football, fill 54,000-seat Byrd Stadium and contend for championships appreciably better than Friedgen had.

Edsall and Friedgen were on the coaching staff at Georgia Tech together in 1998. Before that, Edsall spent four years under Tom Coughlin at the NFL expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.

Edsall was a quarterback at Syracuse, where he graduated in 1980 with a degree in physical education and earned a master's in health and physical education in 1982.

Wearing a gray suit and burgundy rep tie, Edsall on Monday portrayed himself as a disciplinarian, a straight shooter and a coach who would tailor his offensive and defensive schemes to his players' talents and abilities rather than the reverse.

Defensive tackle A.J. Francis, among the players on hand, conceded afterward that he was surprised by the choice, suspecting instead that Auburn's Malzahn was getting the job after Anderson told a small group of players two days ago that their next coach was involved with a BCS game.

"I didn't even consider Coach Edsall," Francis said. "But I realize now that it's good for us because not much is going to change. He seems a lot like Coach Friedgen. He doesn't take any crap from anybody and makes sure you're doing the right thing."

Asked, then, if he felt it was worth the turmoil of replacing coaches, Francis said: "If Mr. Anderson did something, he did it for the best of our program. It's not my job to tell anybody what to do. I just gotta fill the B gap."

Anderson conceded he had work to do in order to assuage bad feelings among alumni who were disappointed by the hire.

But time and again, he referenced what he called Edsall's "body of work," including winning records at every stop and his players' graduation rates, as vindication of a choice he said was his alone.

clarkel@washpost.com yandas@washpost.com prisbelle@washpost.com

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