18 to 23 year old guys are idiots. I know because I used to be one. As long as there is college football, there will be college football players doing unwise deeds in their downtime. How coaches react, especially given the public relations crisis college athletics finds itself in, will come to define their legacies. Admirably, Randy Edsall seems poised to stick to his zero-tolerance policy, despite the impact it may have on his team’s roster.
And what is not to love Edsall’s tenure as Maryland’s head coach so far? The coach has embraced the football culture at Maryland and made it a personal mission to put his stamp on it. I believe him when he says that this is his “dream job,” not a springboard to a bigger seat. Whereas Ralph Friedgen, a surely competent coach, seemed toward the end to be running a languishing NFL-style program, Edsall has brought in a new element to College Park: accountability. By suspending senior receivers Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree indefinitely, Edsall is further sending the message that his regime is about consistency in performance and in character. If stars like Danny O’Brien or Kenny Tate screw up like Tyler and McCree allegedly did, Edsall needs to practice the consistency he preaches and sit ’em down.
With Tyler and McCree out for their off-field transgressions, the receiving duties fall heavily to two relative unproven commodities: Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins. Heading in to a huge non-conference rivalry game against West Virginia, this is a potentially devastating blow to the ceiling for quarterback O’Brien. As good as the sophomore signal-caller might be, you still need guys who can help you out and open. You need players who know your rhythms and have taken first-team reps with you. “Next man up,” as the old football saying goes. There are reasons, though, that he was the “next” guy and not the “first” guy.
Maryland’s depth issues go beyond the wideouts. Tailback D.J. Adams served a suspension of his own last week, leaving Davin Meggett as the Terps’ lone experienced runner. That’s an awful lot to ask of Meggett, who’s always been more effective splitting carries, and a group of frosh runners. On the defensive side of the ball, there are freshman slotted in right behind starters on the depth chart at seven individual positions. And unfortunately, it’s not because they’re all highly-touted recruits waiting to bust out.
Whenever there’s a regime change, the recruiting pipeline is bound to take a hit. Maryland’s is especially thin right now, with many of the top local prospects, like Friendship Collegiate Academy (DC)’s Eddie Goldman, most likely heading out of state next fall. As it stands Maryland’s 13 commits for the class of 2012 rank 11th in the ACC out of 12 teams. Until Edsall establishes Maryland’s identity and has the chance to get in a full recruiting cycle completely on his own, the talent will have to be diamonds in the rough, solid junior college players, and in-house developments.
Maryland may be a good football team this season, but only a handful of times will they be the more “talented” team. With talent in such short supply, suspensions, dismissals and discipline are going to have a great impact on on-field performance for the foreseeable future. If Miami or Ohio State has to sit a four or five-star guy out for a few games, it can just insert the other four-star guy they recruited at the position to take his spot. Maryland can’t afford such luxuries, given that its 2011 and 2012 classes have exactly one four-star player a piece. And let’s not forget player health compounding suspension and discipline problems. Edsall has already lost starting defensive end Isaiah Ross for a significant portion of the season. It is now becoming clear that, while this is a promising season for the Terps (who, let’s not forget won 9 games last year), the cupboards are not overflowing with future draft picks and All-Americans. Concurrently, there is a coach with a defined and stringent structure for running things that does not include a tolerance for off-field antics or even on-field revelry.
In a moment two Mondays ago during Maryland’s thrilling win over Miami, it was easy to see what Edsall is all about. As cornerback Cameron Chism picked off a pass that essentially sealed the game, the rangy defensive back accelerated up the sideline to take it to the house. Maryland was up by two points at the time, with less than a minute on the clock. Sure, technically, if Chism picks the ball off and falls down where he stands, the Terps can kneel it out and leave with a sure win. Instinct took over, and Chism delivered the ball 54 yards to the endzone putting Maryland up eight points and Byrd Stadium into a frenzy. The ESPN camera panned to Chism on the sideline being chastised by Edsall. The announcers assumed it was for celebrating beyond the militaristic coach’s sensibilities. Edsall was actually letting Chism know that the right play was not to score, but to go down and give the ball to the offense to clock it out. “Are you for real right now? I just made a game-clinching pick six!” Chism’s expression seemed to say. Edsall wasn’t even asked about the play during his on-field postgame interview, but he couldn’t let it go. “If he goes down, the game’s over!” he complains, basking in the glow of his first win as head coach, on national TV and all.
For Randy Edsall, it’s not just about winning. It’s about winning the right way, even if it means suspending starters, playing unprovens in key spots, and laying down instead of scoring when it can end the game.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com