Labor Day seems a lifetime ago for Maryland football. The Terps opened Randy Edsall’s coaching tenure that evening with a 32-24 victory over Miami. Byrd Stadium was a near sellout, ESPN’s cameras were on hand, and Twitter overloaded with buzz about the team’s unique (charitable description) uniforms.
Maryland hasn’t beaten a Division I-A team since. Fans are staying away in droves, and Washington-area media are riding Edsall for everything from his quarterback choice to grooming code.
Maryland has lost four straight since a victory over Division I-AA Towson, most recently at home to Boston College, previously winless against I-A opposition. On a grim weather day, the announced crowd was 29,945, but the Associated Press reported that when the second half began with the Terps trailing 21-3, fewer than 10,000 spectators remained inside the 54,000-seat stadium.
Suffice to say, plenty of tickets remain for Saturday.
It’s all quite odd for a program that won the ACC’s first national championship, in 1953, earned three consecutive conference titles under Bobby Ross from 1983-85, ended Florida State’s nine-year league reign in 2001, and just last season was 9-4.
That 9-4 finish included a 51-20 bowl victory over East Carolina and ACC coach of the year honors for Ralph Friedgen. But that wasn’t enough for new athletic director Kevin Anderson, who fired Friedgen and hired Edsall from Connecticut.
Friedgen, a Maryland graduate, was the first coach since Jerry Claiborne in the 1970s to guide the Terps to three straight national top-20 finishes. But his decade on the job also included four losing seasons and spotty academic performance.
Was his dismissal warranted? To this outsider, no, but internally the picture may have been far different.
What I do know is that Friedgen’s unusual exit – can you name another coach of the year fired without evidence of malfeasance? – put Edsall in a bind.
Fans and media weren’t inclined to be patient. They saw a program that won nine games in 2010 and returned quarterback Danny O’Brien, the ACC’s rookie of the year last season.
Contrast Edsall to Mike London, who took over a Virginia program reeling from three losing seasons in four years. He was the people’s choice to succeed Al Groh and enjoyed considerable goodwill, despite a 4-8 debut in 2010 that included a 1-7 ACC record and 42-23 home loss to Maryland.
Now at 5-3 in his second year, and with impressive victories over Georgia Tech and Miami, London is building upon that goodwill.
When Anderson fired Friedgen, many Terps donors lobbied openly for former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. But Anderson chose Edsall, whose UConn team had just won the Big East and been drilled by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Edsall is no-nonsense. He forbids shaggy hair and unkempt beards and demands academic performance. None of which makes him Attila the Hun. All of which makes him a lightning rod as the losses mount.
Two recent Washington Post stories are telling.
The guy’s coached two-thirds of a season, for heaven’s sake. Yes, he’s occasionally pulled O’Brien in favor of C.J. Brown. But give him some space.
That said, Edsall has damaged his own cause with remarks about “rebuilding” the Terps. Whether the word was intended or not, fans don’t want to hear it after a 9-4 season. They want to see results.
Maryland’s results are decidedly mixed.
Three of the Terps’ six defeats are to top-25 teams – West Virginia, Georgia Tech and Clemson – and all three were competitive. Another was to Florida State, which is a good bet to finish among the top 25.
A 38-7 flop against Temple and the 28-17 loss to Boston College are different stories. In both instances, Maryland failed to compete against teams it should beat.
And, under the right direction, they are capable of winning long-term. The Baltimore-Washington corridor crawls with prospects – Virginia, Virginia Tech, Penn State and others have long recruited there – and suburban D.C., is appealing to athletes who aspire to the NFL.
“I know I hired the right person,” Anderson told the Post.
We won’t know that for quite some time.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP