Maybe the Maryland football program wasn’t in need of rebuilding before the season began — but it definitely is now.
Coach Randy Edsall has had a rough time on and off the field during his first year in College Park, and his repeated missteps while speaking publicly have further rankled Maryland supporters already frustrated by the team’s surprisingly poor performance. Losers of three straight and five of six, the Terrapins, who expected to be competitive in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division, would occupy last place if they fall to Boston College on Saturday at Byrd Stadium.
Injuries have played a part in Maryland’s collapse, and the schedule is tougher than last season. And growing pains are inevitable in a regime change. Also, some former key contributors have not been as productive under Edsall.
Still, none of that fully explains why Maryland has fallen so short of expectations in the first season after Athletic Director Kevin Anderson fired Ralph Friedgen, last season’s ACC coach of the year, and turned to Edsall to take the program from “good to great.”
In moments of frustration, Edsall has dropped hints about the root of the problem, indicating he needs more time and talent to build the program his way. The perception is that Edsall is bashing Friedgen and players instead of accepting responsibility for what has gone wrong. It’s debatable how much talent Maryland truly has, and there are no guarantees the team would have played better even if Friedgen had returned.
What is certain is that Edsall has a lot of work ahead of him. While trying to recruit the types of players he wants, Edsall also must attempt to improve his image with fans, who haven’t seen much to like yet. He should just stop talking about what could be better at Maryland, and utilize the available talent in the final five games. It’s important for Edsall to finally provide stability in an unstable season — especially if he may need even more time than he initially envisioned to get it right.
Edsall has learned a lot from the problems he’s facing, and “just like in a business, whenever there is change, some people might not always agree with everything,” he said during a lengthy interview in his office Tuesday. “What we’re going to do, what we’re going to make sure of, is that everybody understands the kind of program we’re installing.
“It’s about doing what’s best for these student-athletes academically, athletically and as people. Now, if there are people who don’t feel that they can be a part of what we’re trying to do here, well, I can’t control that. All we want here are the guys who really believe in the program.”
In a one-on-one session, Edsall conveys his message clearly. His desire to help Maryland players seems true. His passion to succeed is evident.
Group settings haven’t worked as well for him. After an embarrassing loss to Temple in September and again last week following a blowout defeat at Florida State, Edsall raised eyebrows in commenting on the program’s deficiencies.
Edsall prohibits assistant coaches from being interviewed. Essentially, he’s the program’s lone voice.
To this point, Edsall has failed in that important role, too often making conflicting comments about whether the Terrapins are talented enough to win consistently. Pressed by reporters after raising questions about the state of the program, Edsall has quickly backtracked. He simply can’t do that.
“It’s gotta be a situation where maybe you don’t say as much because of how things are taken out of context. People don’t see my point of view,” Edsall said. “I can’t help that people might misinterpret something I say.
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not trying to criticize [the former staff] . . . or do anything to ever hurt one of my student-athletes. That’s not me.”
But Edsall isn’t well-known here. The public can evaluate Edsall only on what he says publicly, and he definitely seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth about the Terrapins’ talent level.
He sidestepped the rebuilding question while we spoke, but he has “an issue with the preseason publications and everything along those lines. Every team changes so much from year to year. And every year is a new beginning, so to speak. You really never know how that’s all gonna play out until you start getting into playing the games.”
Edsall has made changes in the academic support program to provide more help for players. His dress-code rules, however, have also stirred frustration in the program.
“Making kids go to class, having it so kids can’t wear a hat inside or wear an earring to a football function . . . I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Edsall said. “Holding kids accountable and making sure that the young men are only doing what the NCAA allows us to do with the number of hours that we have per week . . . that’s what we should be doing.”
Maryland had nine victories and won a bowl game last season. Edsall knew expectations were high when he accepted the position. Edsall, though, wouldn’t be the first coach to learn a job is more difficult after he actually started working at it.
Edsall believes he’s doing things correctly. He’s determined to achieve something special at Maryland. He has already built a program at Connecticut — and now he has an opportunity to rebuild one.