The first months of a college athletic director's tenure are typically spent getting a feel for the landscape. For Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, his first seven months included leading a major overhaul that included the messy divorce with a popular football coach who also happens to be an alum and the sudden retirement of one of the country's most respected men's basketball coaches.
Add to that the decision to eliminate as many as eight teams. A little more than a year after Anderson replaced Debbie Yow, and you get a feeling of — if not quite have some sympathy for — what he has faced since coming here from Army in October of 2010.
Even Anderson doesn't know how it's all going to play out.
The success stories for the Terps athletically during Anderson's time at Maryland include: two field hockey national championships, a men's lacrosse Final Four appearance last spring and the women's basketball team reaching the Elite 8 last month. But they have been largely overshadowed by a disastrous 2-10 debut for football coach Randy Edsall, two straight years without a post-season invitation in men's basketball and the impending cuts that could impact dozens of athletes.
"It's reality, it's the way we live in college athletics," Anderson said during a 40-minute interview in his Comcast Center office Monday. "Most people know that football derives most if not all (of the revenue) for these athletic departments, particularly when we're playing at the level we are. I take that challenge on. We did have a rough football season — going 2-10 is unacceptable — but I do feel I hired the right person (in Edsall). I believe that we're moving in the right direction."
Anderson sees proof in the recruiting class Edsall and his revamped staff — including new offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart — were able to bring in despite the team's poor record. It certainly didn't help that more than a dozen players, including former all-ACC freshman of the year quarterback Danny O'Brien, have transferred since the end of the season.
"The high school coaches around here have received him (Edsall) very well and a young man like (Stefon) Diggs and some of these other people, if their parents and these kids thought he wasn't a good coach or a good person, they had a lot of other options," Anderson said. "They have to believe in what we're trying to do and what we're trying to establish.
"We still have some challenges. I would be foolish to sit up here and tell you that it was going to be easy, but at the end of the day, we will have success here and we will have success at the highest level…Randy has a great track record at making sure both academically as well as athletically that his teams have been competitive. That's the other thing that I looked at and that's why I believe that we'll be successful as we continue to go down this path. "
Andy Geiger, whose 35-year career as a Division I athletic director included a four-year stay at Maryland (1990-94), said Tuesday that it could be a bumpy road for Anderson if the fortunes of the football team do not turn around quickly. Though Anderson and university president Wallace D. Loh said at a November news conference the decision to pare down the department had nothing to do with the football team struggling, the timing was certainly curious.
"When you start cutting sports, there's a lot of finger pointing — it's (football's) fault," said Geiger, who left Maryland for Ohio State, where he stayed more than a decade. "It's way too easy to connect the dots."
Like Anderson, Geiger inherited an athletic program with severe financial problems, much of it tied to the lack of interest and success in football, as well as NCAA probation for the men's basketball team. Geiger fired Joe Krivak after the Terps finished 2-9 in 1991. Geiger hired Mark Duffner, a successful coach at Holy Cross who wound up having one winning season in five years at Maryland.
Geiger said the football program's inability to turn things around led to his time at Maryland being "less than esteemed" compared to the solid reputation he had built at Stanford and Penn.
"The AD is the head coach of the coaches, and the success and failures of the people you hire, particularly in the major sports, is who you are," said Geiger, who is now retired.
Longtime Maryland athletic booster Chuck Corcoran said that Anderson inherited a "tough situation" from Yow, who left in June 2010 after 16 years and is now the athletic director at North Carolina State. Regardless, Corcoran said Anderson is "tied to the hip" with Edsall and men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon.
Corcoran said "what hurt Randy a lot is they weren't good at getting the message out" that last year's team, despite finishing 9-4 the previous season under Ralph Friedgen, might not have been that good after losing wide receiver Torrey Smith and tailback DaRel Scott and linebackers Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten . Anderson said he brought in Edsall from Connecticut after the Huskies reached the Fiesta Bowl with a similar goal for the Terps, who had been to one BCS game under Friedgen in 10 years.
"The expectations on Randy were probably set too high," Corcoran said.
Many fans and those in the media wanted Anderson to hire Mike Leach to replace Friedgen, but after bringing Leach to campus for an interview, Anderson and some on the search committee became uncomfortable with the former Texas Tech coach, whose mouth seemed to be as wide-open as his offense.
"If you look at recent history, if you look at bringing in the wrong person, it seems to catch up with you," said Anderson. "I believe that in everything I've seen and everyone I've talked to, I've hired the right people. Even this year in men's basketball, people wanted more, they're accustomed to going to the tournament. I just think the two people that we've hired at the end of the day when the results start to come that everybody who's affiliated with this program will be extremely proud of what we do here."
But Anderson admits, "At the end of the day, I could be wrong. I've been in this long enough, I've worked with great people, I've seen how they've done it…If it's consistent with what I've been taught and the model that we've put together now, we'll have success in all areas."
One of the areas in which Anderson has already received high marks is fundraising. He has taken advantage of the excitement surrounding Turgeon in particular, with the advent of the Sweet 16 booster group whose members will donate $50,000 each for five years and is in the process of putting together a similar group of 22 boosters (at $22,000 a year) for football.
"He's brought a sense of urgency and a degree of fundraising that we haven't had at Maryland in a long time — maybe ever," said Barry DesRoches, another longtime booster and alum.
Anderson believes that one of the reasons why Turgeon has been so well-received while Edsall has been widely criticized has not only to do with how their teams performed and the coaches' images portrayed in the media. The men's basketball team finished 17-15, with a 6-10 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference, yet Turgeon is almost revered for his honesty and humility. Edsall is perceived as being evasive and arrogant.
Turgeon's hiring received the blessing of Gary Williams.
"When you look at the way things happened with Ralph and the way things happened with Gary, Gary went out a hero, as he should, and he endorsed Mark," Anderson said. "There's the difference right there. If it had been different with Ralph it might have been different with Randy. I take full responsibility. You don't know how badly I feel about some of the things that have been written and said about Randy. It's not the person I know and I know it's not the person people are projecting."
As for Anderson, he inherited an athletic program that appeared to be successful but had become badly bloated by the expenses needed to fund 27 teams, including competitive cheerleading and women's water polo. . Those are among the teams that will be cut once the June 30 deadline to raise the necessary funds to keep them going passes.
"I didn't come here to cut any sports," Anderson said. "I think that's the biggest thing I've had to deal with as a challenge. The most difficult thing aside from experiencing death in my family was going in and telling those young people that there was a strong possibility that we might eliminate their sports. I went through a couple of weeks there, that was extremely hard. I don't wish that on anybody. There could be another 2 ½ months that there could be some difficult days ahead for me if it comes out negative."
Given the fact that many at the university weren't aware of the athletic program's shortfall, projected for this fiscal year at nearly $5 million, Anderson said that he "didn't know everything walking in here" and he might have had "some conversations with some folks" had he known . But he said he he has not second-guessed himself for leaving a fairly secure position at West Point.
After the cuts are made – and Anderson hopes a couple of teams are saved – the next measuring stick will come this fall. Despite the arrival of five-star recruits Diggs and Good Counsel teammate Wes Brown at running back, as well as the return of most of last year's young defense, the team's record is not expected to improve much in Edsall's second season.
So what happens if the Terps don't improve much, if at all?
"Then we're just going to have alternative plans to get through that, and make things happen the way they will, " Anderson said. "Eventually it will happen. If it doesn't, some other people that I report to will have to answer that question as well. I know I have the support of the president, the chancellor. They see what we're trying to do. I think they feel confident that we're going to get it done. I believe our vision and what we want for the institution is the right thing. At some point in time, I've seen it happen with other people, if they don't believe that, wherever the cards fall, they'll fall. But I can go to sleep at night knowing we're doing the right thing."