National signing day: Will higher-profile job cause Maryland Coach Randy Edsall to alter his recruiting methods
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 11:13 PM
During his first month on the job, Maryland football coach Randy Edsall and his staff spent much of their time on the road meeting with high school coaches and recruits, attempting to firm up commitments and even add a few. Edsall will unveil the Terrapins' latest class of prospects Wednesday, the first day in which recruits in the Class of 2011 can sign their national letters-of-intent.
But the makeup of this group - most of which was drawn to Maryland by the staff of former coach Ralph Friedgen - will do little to answer perhaps the most pertinent question regarding Edsall's recruiting philosophy: Is he willing to change it or, at the very least, adjust it to reflect the expectations of his new, higher-profile status?
At Connecticut, where Edsall coached the past 12 seasons, he devised a recruiting plan centered on the ability to max out the potential of two- and three-star prospects. Edsall did not waste time courting upper-echelon recruits he knew would likely would end up at perennial powerhouses. He focused on character over ego and, at times, talent.
But now Edsall, who was chosen Jan. 2 to succeed Friedgen, resides in a recruiting environment where the resources are richer and the aspirations are higher. His staff will join the hunt for highly ranked recruits because such prospects are viable targets and necessary to meet the goal - transforming the Maryland football program from "good to great" - set forth by Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson on the day Edsall's hiring was announced.
"It's going to be quite a bit of an adjustment for Edsall because he is not somebody who likes to pamper recruits," said Mike Farrell, lead football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "He's not somebody who likes to really play that game and kiss up to kids like you have to these days. That's going to be a big challenge for him. The big-time kids, all the five-stars and the four-stars of the world, all want their egos stroked. And [that's being done] by every other program in the country. . . .
"At U-Conn., he had the luxury of not having to say that to kids because the kids they were recruiting weren't sitting on 40 offers. Now he's either going to have to say: 'I'm going to win without those kids. I'm not going to play that game. If you want to come to Maryland, you want to come to Maryland. If you don't, we'll win without you.' Or he's going to have to play that game. And trust me, it's not a fun game to play. But that's how you get kids to stay in-state, and it's really hard to do."
Edsall's approach to recruiting is no different than the way he addresses every other aspect of his job. He is meticulous, prepared and organized.
When Edsall was the defensive backs coach at Boston College from 1991 to 1993, he constructed a recruiting calendar to which every assistant on coach Tom Coughlin's staff was beholden, according to Danny Rocco, who then was the Eagles' defensive line coach. A specific recruiting-oriented task was outlined daily for each assistant.
"Randy had a mind-set in recruiting that was very much geared toward communicating with the [recruits] on a daily basis throughout the course of the year," said Rocco, now the head coach at Liberty. "He had a system in place that focused on different areas of recruiting during different times of the year so that when you came down to the decision-making time, all the bases had been covered."
Coughlin, now the head coach of the NFL's New York Giants, said Edsall's thoroughness frequently gave him an edge.
"He keeps excellent track of each individual," Coughlin said. "He knows the relatives, the brothers, the sisters, the aunts, the uncles. He knows them all. He does a great job keeping up on that, and it's very important to him."
Edsall uses that information to determine when to soft-pedal a recruit and when to press him for a commitment, said Jerry Franks, who served as Edsall's offensive coordinator at Connecticut in 2001. Franks said Edsall always "had a good feel" for determining the next step to take with a recruit, and "in most cases I think he was right on his feel."
For Edsall, a recruit's value is measured more by his makeup than by his raw skills. Edsall is confident in his ability to assess character and makes swift decisions on whether to pursue potential prospects.
"He might not go after a certain player that might be a great player, but Randy might get the sense of: 'You know what? He's lazy or he's selfish or he won't listen,' " said Eileen Edsall, Randy's wife. "And he'll pass on him and go on to the next guy."
Edsall's assistants have traveled across the nation in recent weeks selling a program with which they're still growing familiar.
"The biggest thing that I've been telling recruits is obviously right now I can't tell you a whole bunch about the University of Maryland, but I'm learning every day and finding more and more reasons that I'm glad that I'm here," said Maryland special teams coordinator Lyndon Johnson, who worked under Edsall at Connecticut since 1999. "But the one thing I can tell them about is Randy Edsall.
"I can tell them about his philosophy, his vision and where he's going to take this program because I've seen his process work before. I know it can work and I can show you examples of how it's going to work. I've seen him do it time and time again over the last 12 years."
For now, that message has sufficed. Moving forward, Farrell said it would behoove Maryland to at least be in serious contention for a high-caliber in-state prospect in the Class of 2012, such as Good Counsel wide receiver Stefon Diggs, a first-team All-Met in 2010.
Whether the pursuit of such prospects leads Edsall to conform to the pitfalls of modern recruiting remains to be seen, but early returns indicate he is holding firm to his established methods.
"He always sort of sold the underdog mentality to kids at U-Conn., and I think he's still sort of selling that," Farrell said. "Because let's be honest: When you're competing in Pennsylvania against Penn State or when you're going into Virginia against Virginia Tech or trying to even go down south and recruit against Florida State and Clemson, I think he's going to use that hard work, lunchpail, underdog, we're-just-going-to-outwork-everybody-and-punch-them-in-the-face mentality.
"And I think kids have sort of responded to that. Now, has it led to a ton of commitments? No. But it's led to a lot more chatter amongst kids than I expected initially, and I think that will carry over to next year."