This is an odd time in sports. It isn’t like the post-Super Bowl lull when there isn’t anything going on except college basketball or the April post-March Madness slump when baseball hasn’t gotten going yet. And yet unless you are a huge fan of hockey regular games are tough to come by. There is the omnipresent force of the NFL and the buildup to the mythical national championship in college football, but most teams have wrapped up and are waiting for their bowl game, if they are lucky enough to be in the top half of teams (hell of a postseason, huh? Everyone and their brother gets to go to the postseason but only the top 2 teams get a chance to be the champion of anything). If not, they are waiting around for their coach to get fired or a new one to get hired. So far Arizona and Washington State have done well for themselves, picking up the top names on the street as soon as possible so they can ease the transition and build a halfway decent recruiting class out of the year. However Randy Edsall, despite his best efforts, will still be the coach of Maryland.
There are a few types of coaching candidates, from the hot coordinators (Gus Malzahn, Brent Venables) to the mid-major high achievers (Kevin Sumlin, Tim Beckman) to the once-successful (Houston Nutt, Rick Neuheisel) to the steady BCS program-builders (Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach, Dan Mullen). It was out of this last category that Maryland plucked Randy Edsall from UConn, and the rest of Maryland football is history. He returned a talented redshirt sophomore in Danny O’Brien and much of the rest of the squad that went 9-4 a year before. He lost a number of skill position players but promised to make up for it by installing a wide open, spread passing attack. Instead his team hobbled to a miserable 2-10, capped off in appropriate fashion by disastrous collapse that saw a 41-14 lead late in the third quarter become a 56-41 embarrassment. And that was a nice microcosm of the last two years of Maryland football. A strong first part with a good opening to the second (the win over Miami/early third quarter against NC State) with the squad disintegrating as the game/season wore on.
But bad seasons happen, that is part of the ebb and flow of college football. Michigan went 3-9 in Rich Rodriguez’s first year, then slowly began the climb that took them to 5-7, 7-5, and 10-2 this season under Brady Hoke. This would give Maryland fans a fair amount of hope that there is life after a dismal start to a regime (Maryland wouldn’t be firing a coach after winning more games every year… nevermind). However, there is a big difference between the Rodriguez transition and the Edsall transition. When Rodriguez came to Michigan, there was a massive number of transfers initially, which gave him a young and inexperienced group but one that started to stabilize over the next couple years, albeit slowly and still with significant defections. Edsall did not face such an exodus and managed to keep together a group that inherited a successful starting quarterback, which is a strong predictor of success through a coaching transition. Instead he faces a bigger exodus the year after he takes over, which indicates that his message has not taken hold with his players and that he is already losing his locker room. Compound that with a poor recruiting class by any BCS program standards (currently ranked 11th in the ACC ahead of only Wake Forest according to Rivals) and a quarterback that is suddenly riding the bench.*
So no, Maryland fans, it doesn’t look to get much better for the Randy Edsall regime. The problem is that it would be irresponsible to fire a coach and pay him for the rest of his way-too-long 5-year contract when the university is trying to figure out not if but how many sports to cut completely from its budget. Even if a new hire could boost purchasing of the largely empty luxury suites at Byrd Stadium, it would likely fail to make up for the cost of the contract or the PR mess that would result from such a move.
Instead Marylanders must hope that the players remaining look at their departed teammates and pledge to be better Terrapins than they were, to recommit themselves to the program and serve as role models for the players that come after them. They must hope that Randy Edsall can work his magic in making two-star players play like four-stars, and put together a team that can compete in the ACC for division titles. These things happen, and perhaps with time Edsall will learn not to compare taking over a 9-4 Maryland squad that finished in the top 25 with taking over an FCS UConn team. It is sad that the year that Maryland got onto the national stage with their polarizing pride uniforms (which I love but non-Marylanders either hate or don’t understand) they had to do so en route to such a terrible season. However, the smart move- the only move- is to keep Edsall, because things won’t be any better for the university firing him now than after another couple seasons when they have the financial means to do so. If he turns it around in the meantime, then the Terps can thank themselves for not pulling the plug too early.
*If you take over a program that has a successful, young quarterback and he is suddenly incapable of reading a defense, the blame should land on the coaching staff unless the player was recalcitrant and unwilling to adapt his game to the new scheme. I don’t think that was the case here.