Friday, January 07, 2011

The Edsall kurfuffle

Most Maryland fans didn't see former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall as the likely replacement for Ralph Friedgen as the head coach of the football program. I certainly dismissed some of the early reports about Edsall along with the ridiculous rumors that Michigan coach Rich Rodriquez was a candidate as well. Turns out Mike Leach wasn't the favorite that everyone thought he was when this saga started. As many in the media have summed up this was a fairly uninspiring hire. Some have compared it to N.C. State's hiring of Tom O'Brien, except O'Brien has a much more impressive resume that Edsall, and Chuck Amato's tenure in Raliegh was filled with more low points than Friegden's time in College Park.

Edsall does little to energize the flagging ticket holders at Byrd Stadium. His teams at UConn were fairly boring to watch and were not exactly brimming with talent. Part of that is the meager talent produced by high schools in Connecticut which makes Maryland look like Texas and Florida combined. Edsall certainly had a harder road to hoe than Fridge when it came to recruiting. Edsall would probably never be able to attract talents like Vernon Davis, Shawne Merriman and Darrius Heyward-Bey that Maryland plucked out of their backyard. Connecticut had a good 2009 draft with four players picked in the first two rounds (RB Donald Brown being the most notable) but the plethora of 2-star talents that Edsall recruited at UConn would make any recruiting guru question Maryland's ability to land the top talent in the state.

Much was made of Edsall's resume during his introductory news conference. Maryland AD Kevin Anderson rightly lauded Edsall's impressive graduation rate and his stewardship of UConn from I-AA to I-A football. That is no small feat, but Edsall's win loss record is a little less impressive. The last three seasons Edsall is 33-19 with the Fiesta Bowl shellacking by Oklahoma the highlight. Edsall's record since UConn became a I-A program is a pedestrian 70-63. While that may not be a fair comparison, since Friedgen took over a Maryland program that was well established and had far greater resources than UConn did, his record competing in an inferior conference when compared to Friedgen's isn't that impressive.

In the end the comparison between Edsall and Friedgen is a moot point. Ralph Friedgen was out as Maryland's coach and it didn't much depend on who replaced him. Anderson didn't want Friedgen back after his staff was gutted and Fridge became a lame duck coach. There would be no extension for Fridge. In that sense the comparisons of Fridgen and Edsall are facile. Friedgen was not fired so that Maryland could hire Randy Edsall even if that was the end result.

The confusion among some Maryland fans regarding how Edsall fits with the "strategic business decision" of firing Friedgen, as Anderson described it when he announced Friedgen would be bought out, is justified. Edsall is unlikely to help the dire season ticket problems facing the program or sell the empty luxury suites that Debbie Yow built. The only thing that will sell tickets is for this team to win now and win big. It is safe to say that if Edsall has any losing seasons over the next few years it will probably spell the end for both Edsall and Anderson who are both on five year contracts.

In Edsall's favor he retained defensive coordinator Don Brown, a vital step in the right direction, kept the 2011 recruiting class in fair order, and has a very talented quarterback in Danny O'Brien. It is true that the ACC is more competitive than the Big East and it is certainly more challenging to get to a BCS bowl at Maryland than it would be at UConn. All that is beside the point however. UConn will struggle to ever recruit the kinds of players to make it competitive with the likes of Oklahoma and Edsall had probably done as well as could be expected with what he had to work with in Storrs. It may be possible to have a basketball power there with the sleazy Jim Calhoun running the program but it is far more difficult to do that without the benefit of AAU bagmen in football. I had to laugh when I heard the suggestion that Edsall had left because the admission standards were too difficult at UConn to get some of the players he wanted. As if Jim Calhoun had to worry about that.

I doubt that Edsall will fail at Maryland but I also doubt that he will have the kind of success that Maryland fans expect in the era after Ralph Friedgen. If Edsall is willing to devote himself to hiring a staff that can recruit the best players in the Washington and Baltimore area then he has a chance to be successful. If he continues to recruit overlooked athletes that are not highly regarded then merely winning seasons and marginal bowl games won't be enough to save him or reverse the fortunes of the football program.

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