In the midst of a turbulent and troubling start to the 2015 season, Maryland fired football Coach Randy Edsall on Sunday.
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will serve as interim head coach, Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson announced during a subdued news conference at the team’s facility a few hours after Edsall, 57, was dismissed.
The move ends days of speculation surrounding Edsall’s future and opens an uncertain chapter for a reeling Maryland program that has been blown out in three consecutive games and suffered eroding support this season in home attendance and among donors. Edsall, who was hired in 2011 after Maryland forced out longtime coach Ralph Friedgen, closed his tenure with a 22-34 record. His final game, Saturday’s 49-28 loss at No. 1 Ohio State, dropped the Terrapins to 2-4 this season, 0-2 in Big Ten play.
“Over the past two years we had shown improvement and had gone to two bowl games. But over the last six games we had a significant setback and that’s why I made my decision,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he had been mulling a potential change since the team’s 48-27 home loss to Bowling Green on Sept. 12, although he didn’t come to a final decision until he woke up on Sunday morning. That was nearly 72 hours after reports leaked that Edsall’s firing was imminent.
“I want to personally apologize to Randy, because that wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen,” Anderson said. “I don’t know who decided Thursday that I had made a decision, but I hadn’t until this morning.”
The move will have short-term financial implications for Maryland, which must pay Edsall his salary of $2.1 million for this season in addition to a buyout that will cost roughly $2.6 million. No state funds will be used to pay off Edsall’s contract, Anderson said on Sunday, explaining that the school will be able to “weather” the cost of the buyout in part because of new revenue streams created by joining the Big Ten Conference.
“There is a short-term cost, but we feel that there are going to be long-term benefits … entering the Big Ten and being associated with the conference, it has changed our economic model,” Anderson said.
Maryland also fired assistant head coach Lyndon Johnson, who followed Edsall to College Park after serving on his staff at Connecticut Edsall was brought to College Park after an 11-year stint at Connecticut to elevate Maryland’s program from “good to great,” Anderson said shortly after making the hire in January 2011, but that vision never fully materialized.
Since Edsall’s arrival, the Terrapins improved their academic record and had relatively few off-field issues. They entered this season coming off back-to-back winning years for the first time since 2002.
But the team never enjoyed Anderson’s promised breakthrough under Edsall, whose selection in 2011 was considered a disappointment by some Maryland fans who yearned for a more prominent hire. Edsall did not win more than seven games in a season in College Park; lost all 12 of his games against top 25 opponents, including Saturday’s setback in Columbus; and failed to lead the team to victory in two bowl appearances.
The Terrapins have been on a backward slide since last season’s meltdown against Rutgers in the regular season finale, when they blew a 25-point lead and lost, 41-38, to deny Edsall his first eight-win season at the school. Since that point, Maryland has been outscored 167-55 in four games against major conference opponents.
That does not include the embarrassing defeat to Bowling Green. The loss to the Falcons underscored not only the Terrapins’ plaguing on-field issues, most notably their lack of a viable starting quarterback, but inflamed the dissent among the fan and donor base that helped lead to Saturday’s move.
A person with knowledge of the situation said earlier this week that it appeared Edsall had lost support in the locker room over the last month, speculation that intensified after the team held a players-only meeting without the head coach’s knowledge three days after a 45-6 loss at West Virginia on Sept. 26.
As Maryland struggled on the field, momentum against Edsall ramped up off it. One high-level booster said this week that he was among a group of season-ticket donors who notified Anderson that they would cancel funding should Edsall not be fired.\
Another high-level booster said earlier this week that it was becoming more difficult for the school to solicit donations for the renovation of Cole Field House, a $155 million project that is slated to make Maryland the last Big Ten school to have an indoor football facility.
Attendance for games at Byrd Stadium has also dropped by 13 percent this season, according to an analysis conducted by CBSSports.com. A year after Maryland touted a 30 percent increase in season ticket sales in its inaugural season in the Big Ten, this season’s attendance dip is one of the five largest among the 65 programs that form the “Power Five,” the sport’s wealthiest and most powerful conferences.
Through a 28-0 home loss to Michigan on Oct. 3, which attracted a season-best crowd of 51,802, the average announced attendance over four home games was 40,769. Byrd Stadium has a capacity of 54,000.
The quarterback position has been at the root of Maryland’s on-field dysfunction since fall camp wrapped in August. At that point, Edsall surprisingly named junior Perry Hills the starter over redshirt junior Caleb Rowe and graduate transfer Daxx Garman. But in an odd twist, Hills was demoted to third string after the Bowling Green loss and Rowe took over as the starter the following week in a win over South Florida.
Rowe, whose 12 interceptions entering this weekend’s games were most in major college football, was benched in the second half of ugly losses to West Virginia and Michigan in favor of Garman, who has struggled to learn the offense after transferring in the offseason from Oklahoma State. Maryland hit new lows under Edsall in both games. The 39-point loss to West Virginia was the third worst of his tenure, while the loss to Michigan was the first time Maryland had been shut out at home since 1999.
Edsall, a former quarterback at Syracuse, reopened the competition between the three players earlier last week and ultimately turned to Hills, who rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State as Maryland relied more on its running game. Locksley said Sunday that Hills would be the team’s starting quarterback moving forward.
It is not immediately clear who Maryland may target to replace Edsall on a permanent basis, although the current staff is likely to be overhauled following the season’s end. Anderson said that he expects Locksley to be a candidate for the permanent job, although he didn’t identify any other additional targets.
“Things have changed. We have more resources than we had when Randy came in five years ago. In a couple years we’ll have an indoor facility and we have a better revenue stream,” Anderson said. “Playing football in the Big Ten will make it an attractive job. I think we’re in better position than we were five years ago.”
By firing Edsall Sunday, not only will Maryland get a head start on its coaching search, but it will also allow Locksley to get his bearings as interim head coach with the team heading into a bye week. Maryland will host Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Oct. 24.
Locksley, whose only head coaching job, at New Mexico, ended with a mid-season dismissal in 2011, thanked Edsall for bringing him into the fold as offensive coordinator the next season. He met with Maryland’s players on Sunday morning, telling them that he planned to tweak some of the day-to day operations of the program over the next seven weeks.
“I had an opportunity to meet with the staff. I had an opportunity to meet with the team. And I can tell you that we are all committed to finishing the job that we started six weeks ago,” Locksley said.
Edsall was just four months removed from signing a three-year contract extension, which at the time represented a measured vote of confidence from the administration. Anderson praised Edsall at the time for guiding the program through its first season in the Big Ten, when Maryland finished 7-6. He also credited Edsall for prioritizing academics and for his work on the recruiting front. All of that quickly became an afterthought after the season began.