Major changes were needed in Maryland’s football program after the team went 2-10 in Coach Randy Edsall’s disastrous first season, and Edsall wisely made some. He hired new coordinators and instructed them to overhaul the offense and defense. Edsall pushed for a new synthetic field at Byrd Stadium and approved redesigned uniforms with player names on the back as part of the makeover.
He remodeled as much as he could, essentially painting, upgrading the carpet and hanging new drapes. But the Terrapins’ foundation is still cracked.
Their roster is considered among the weakest in the ACC. Maryland lacks experienced depth after a number of players transferred from the program, including former starting quarterback Danny O’Brien, who was among the conference’s rising stars before Edsall arrived on campus. The unusually high number of transfers in one offseason is a direct reflection of those players’ opinion of the head coach. Some chafed at Edsall’s dress-code rules. Others, like O’Brien, the 2010 ACC rookie of the year, bolted because of their diminished roles within the program.
In the latest bit of awful news, the school announced Wednesday that starting quarterback C.J. Brown will miss the season because of a torn ACL in his right knee. No other quarterback has taken a snap in a college game.
The Terrapins figure to have another abysmal season on the field. But if Edsall proves he’s building correctly for the future, it would be a measure of progress in an otherwise difficult situation.
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who returned to Maryland in December after previously serving as an assistant there from 1997 through 2002, must rely on untested quarterbacks to operate the new pro-style offense. Locksley’s teaching skills will be tested. Ten starters return to aid new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart in making the transition to a 3-4 alignment, but Maryland had one of the nation’s worst defenses last season.
It’s always easiest to measure progress by comparing a team’s win-loss record from one season to the next. Maryland is not expected to win many games, but fans could still gauge improvement from the roster’s development. If Edsall and his staff are succeeding at coaching, it will be apparent in the strides individual players make from the start of the season to the end.
In the NFL, players are the superstars. They’re the ones with the iconic status and paychecks indicative of their top-of-the-mountain standing. All of the league’s head coaches are millionaires as well, and the most successful among them also shine in the media spotlight, but it’s the players who provide the face of teams.
But with players only around for four or five years, tops, coaches are the larger-than-life figures in the college game. Through the force of their personalities, coaches drive everything from recruiting to university fundraising. Winning coaches sometimes become bigger than the schools they represent (though, as we’ve seen from the Penn State situation, hero worship can have horrific consequences).
The image head coaches project is key in whether fans feel confident about their favorite college football teams. Too often, Edsall has inspired only concern. His public-speaking missteps were almost as bad as the Terrapins’ performance during their season-ending seven-game losing streak.
To many Maryland observers, it seemed Edsall was quick to blame the team’s dismal record on the players and the previous coaching regime, which he intimated lacked discipline. I’ve had several private conversations with Edsall about those comments, and the team’s problems last season. He seems earnest in saying he simply misspoke. I believe him.
What Edsall has to do is prove he has learned from those mistakes: No more foot-in-mouth moments. Judging by his actions, Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson is thinking the same way.
Convinced that the athletic department could benefit from being more proactive in dealing with reporters, the school hired a public-relations firm. Anderson also hired Zack Bolno to run the Terrapins’ media relations department. Bolno, who formerly held high-ranking positions in media relations with the Redskins and Wizards, is widely respected in local media circles for his relationship-building skills. Trying to repair Edsall’s image will be a big part of Bolno’s job. I’ve already seen some positive signs.
Edsall has appeared more comfortable recently in interview sessions. He has even personally reached out to reporters to offer help, which would have happened last season about as often as fans drove away happy from Byrd Stadium.
As Maryland prepares to face William & Mary on Sept. 1, Edsall has loosened the reins on media access to assistant coaches and players. Last season, Edsall’s voice was pretty much the only one fans heard. The more access reporters have to newsmakers, the better they can inform fans (in theory, anyway).
Players have noticed a difference in Edsall, who “does seem kind of settled in now,” all-conference defensive lineman Joe Vellano said. “Every coach is different in terms of how they approach situations. When you come into a new situation here like Coach [Edsall] did, it’s going to take a little time.”
With Anderson firmly committed to Edsall, it was best for the program that disgruntled players left. “We need to start building with guys who want to be here,” wide receiver Kevin Dorsey said. “Like on any job, you may have a boss for so many years, and then one day your boss suddenly changes.
“Well, if you want to keep working at that job, you have to adjust to your new boss. Some people just didn’t want to do that. Everyone who stayed knows who the boss is and wants to be here. It’s really that simple.”
It appears Edsall is doing a good job in recruiting. Determined to recruit well in Maryland and the District (for years, the Terrapins have fared poorly in attracting top talent within the area), Edsall signed 12 local players to a 25-member 2012 class.
Once players join the program, Edsall’s commitment to them increases, players say. Edsall serves as the team’s liaison with the new academic support staff.
Over the past three semesters, the team’s grades were higher than in the six semesters before he arrived at Maryland. Edsall has also arranged internships and jobs (all within NCAA rules, school officials assure us) for players.
“People can talk about how many of [the players from last season’s team] that aren’t here, but there are [a lot of] new [players] that want to be here,” Edsall said. “There are guys who carried over from last year who want to be here.
“So when you have that combination, when you have that many people who want to do it together, it’s a whole different environment that we’re involved with. There are so many things moving in the right direction. . . . Now, what we’ve got to do is make sure we win on the field, because that’s really the next step.”
Edsall can only take one at a time. But it seems as if he’s finally trying to put his best foot forward.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/reid.