Randy Edsall has set limits on players’ facial hair and stripped their surnames from the backs of jerseys. He confined academically borderline players to study hall during spring practices and banned earrings and baseball caps.
Maryland’s football team has undergone a number of cosmetic changes since Edsall was named coach in January. More changes are on the horizon, with the expected construction of an indoor practice facility and installation of a new playing surface at Byrd Stadium in the coming years. But the most dramatic development has been the culture change that has swept through the Gossett Team House.
While there is no guarantee Edsall will have the same success he enjoyed at Connecticut, which he led to the Fiesta Bowl last season, this much is certain as Maryland readies to open fall camp Tuesday: The 52-year-old former Syracuse quarterback has established himself as a disciplinarian who is supremely confident in his ability to deliver Maryland its first ACC championship since 2001.
“He has definitely put his stamp down,” said Danny O’Brien, Maryland’s starting quarterback. “The culture is a lot different. It has been his way from day one, and we respect him because he is a man of his word.”
O’Brien described Edsall as possessing a “kind of military style in the way he executes things,” and for players “it is do right, or that’s the only option. I think it has been good on us, to be honest. I think we needed it.”
Linebacker Kenny Tate simply called Edsall a “no-nonsense guy.”
O’Brien said the adjustment to Edsall was made easier because the team was already composed of good character players who abided by rules under Ralph Friedgen, who was fired from his alma mater after last season.
Edsall inherits a roster that returns several key players from the team that went 9-4 in 2010 with a Military Bowl victory over East Carolina. But outside expectations have been lukewarm; ACC media members picked Maryland to finish fifth out of six teams in the Atlantic Division.
Edsall said he pays no mind to preseason predictions. He also said he is not interested in winning a “popularity contest” in pleasing Maryland fans as he attempts to build a new foundation for the university’s football program.
Sitting in his office late last month, Edsall, who had a 74-70 record at U-Conn., turned away from his window view of the football field and said: “The only thing I can tell you is that everything I have ever done I have been successful at. Every stop along the way, as an assistant and as a head coach, we have been successful. That is not by accident.”
Part of Edsall’s program-building formula includes installing a value system. Among the much-publicized rules that Edsall has instituted: No earrings. No hats in the building. And only neatly trimmed facial hair will suffice.
When Edsall said last month that Maryland’s new Under Armour-designed uniforms, which will be unveiled Aug. 22, would not include names on the backs of jerseys, some fans lashed out on Internet message boards because they felt Edsall was determined to stifle individuality.
Edsall offered a lengthy defense when asked Thursday about changing the culture at Maryland, saying “a lot of people have made a mountain out of a molehill,” a reference to the notion that he may have too many team rules.
“Some people come to me and say I don’t allow chewing gum in here,” Edsall said. “That is the first I ever heard of that, you know? I think there is a lot of misinformation out there in terms of people wanting to write stuff and fabricate things about what’s going on.
“To me, if it’s wrong to tell someone to make sure they don’t have their hat on in the building, I guess I was raised the wrong way. I guess if trying to be polite to people and treat people the way you want to be treated, if that is a big issue now in 2012, 2011, I am glad I grew up when I did, because it got me to the point where I think it has allowed me to be pretty successful.”
Edsall acknowledges hitting some speed bumps since he arrived in College Park seven months ago. Twelve players with eligibility remaining are no longer with the team, including offensive lineman Justin Lewis, whom Edsall dismissed after Lewis was charged with second-degree assault.
When he arrived at Maryland, Edsall was “a little bit shocked” with where the program was from an academic standpoint. Maryland lost three scholarships because the team under Friedgen had a subpar score under the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate system, which measures a team’s ability to retain eligible players from semester to semester. Knowing the players he inherited needed to perform better in the classroom, Edsall had some sit out spring practice to spend extra time in study hall. Edsall said that 65 percent of the team earned a 2.5 GPA or better in the spring semester.
And this season Maryland will be limited to 17.5 hours per week of athletically related activities as a self-imposed penalty for exceeding the 20-hour-per-week limit last season. Edsall said the penalty will cut into video and meeting time on Sundays as well as practice time Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“It is not going to be an issue at all because we are not going to let it be an issue,” Edsall said. “It is not going to hinder us.”
He also added definitively: “That’s the whole theme for what we are going to do this year. No excuses. Just play.”