You can read a stack of feature stories, talk to other people during summer months and sit down with the man himself during the offseason. But nothing provides insight into a coach’s philosophy and approach with his team like a regular season that may already be at a crossroads before the close of September.
We have already learned a lot about Randy Edsall during this up-and-down regular season. He was extremely tight-lipped about nearly everything — position battles, depth chart nuggets, long-held philosophies — at the start of the season. But he has begun to open up, and Tuesday’s 30-minute news conference was evidence of that. Right from the opening bell, when asked to elaborate on his Saturday statement about “change,” Edsall was expansive on the process of building a program and creating his culture.
He is blunt, honest and doesn’t dance away from questions. One of the many story lines that will continue to intrigue me this season is how his relationship evolves with his players. Edsall pushes them hard, almost like they are in the military, some say. How that will play out over the course of the season — whether it’s successful or not — will reveal a lot about the man and his players.
Consider the perspective of Maurice Hampton, a fifth-year senior defensive tackle who has dealt with plenty of adversity during his tenure. He talks openly about failure and success and doubts and regaining confidence as a player. He will start in Saturday’s game. On the subject of Edsall, Hampton said the coach can be extremely blunt in team meetings.
“He likes to talk about everything in front of everybody,” Hampton said. “Nobody is in the dark about anything.”
Is that good or bad?
“Depends on the situation,” Hampton said. “You want it to be good. But he will call you out if something is bad. If you test positive or something like that, he will tell the whole team, stand you up. He will just call you out. It builds a form of respect because everybody is together on everything.”
Hampton then talked specifically about how Edsall approached Sunday’s team meeting — one day after Maryland’s stunning loss to Temple — when he singled out Hampton for his strong effort and also safety Matt Robinson, who will be out the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. “While we were sitting there in this room, he came over [to me] and said: ‘You see this guy, this guy right here, this guy is working his butt off. This guy, he wanted it, he wanted it.’
“He pointed to Matt: ‘He wanted it. This guy has a broken bone and he still went out there and played.’ I didn’t know that. Nobody knew that. But here is Matt crying his heart out because he wants to continue playing this game. Things like that you need to know.”
Hampton also recalled his first meeting with Edsall last winter. By that point in his career, Hampton had been frustrated by injury after injury. The change from the offensive line preceded a coaching change, so his future was uncertain. “People put it in your head: ‘Do you want to leave?’ ” he said. “I just want to graduate from the University of Maryland.” So when Hampton met with Edsall in his office, Edsall was clear. He looked Hampton in the eyes. He held out his hand as if performing repeated Karate chops. He showed a stern face. And he said: “I want you to graduate. We need APR points. You can do this.”
“He was all for it,” Hampton said. “He wasn’t going to put up with any of my bullcrap. He was excited, but very strict and stern. I graduate in December. He said: ‘You are graduating this year, you are not going to wait. You are going to finish school.’ ”
And the last item from Hampton on the staff involves how coaches grade their game performances. Hampton said he played about 30 plays against Temple. If you make a play every eighth play, that’s sort of okay in the coaches’ eyes. Hampton said he made a play every fifth play, which earned him a passing grade. Hampton said this year’s staff, most notably defensive line coach Greg Gattuso, does a better job grading players on sheer productivity.
“If you are productive [Gattuso] is going to put you out there,” Hampton said. “Can’t just be out there in space. Even though it doesn’t seem like big change, it was a big change on the D-line. There is no more favoritism. No more, ‘I want him out there because he is this size, or that fast.’ No more of that. It cuts all that stuff out and focuses on who has talent and who doesn’t.”