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Edsall keeps memories of his time at UConn close

There are rows of shiny footballs displayed on wooden shelves in the home of Maryland football coach Randy Edsall.

"Connecticut 23, Buffalo 0," is written in bold white letters painted on the brown leather. "1st Win As Head Coach. Sept. 18, 1999."

"UConn 33, Notre Dame 30. Notre Dame Stadium," reads another from 2009. There are footballs to commemorate Connecticut's first wins over Big East and Big 12 opponents, and to mark the first-round draft selection by the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 of running back Donald Brown, one of Edsall's best Connecticut players.

On Saturday, Maryland (2-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays Connecticut (1-1, 0-0 Big East) —where Edsall coached 12 seasons — and he seems eager to keep the focus on his team rather than on him.

"This week is no different than any other week to me," he said Tuesday. "This is Game 3 on our schedule."

But the footballs tell another story.

Coaches — like managers in other professions — don't easily forget the employer who gave them their first big break. Edsall had labored as an assistant for nearly 20 years before Connecticut hired him after the 1998 season when he was 40-years-old.

As Maryland prepared for the Huskies — whose defense is led by former Terps coordinator Don Brown — Edsall seemed wary of allowing the reunion with his former program to become a distraction. It's a big game for the Terps: their first chance to begin a season 3-0 since 2001 following last season's 2-10 record..

But, in response to media questions, Edsall acknowledged that he owes Connecticut a debt. He said he still regrets that he could not meet in person with his Huskies players to tell them he was leaving.

Connecticut "was a really special place for me and my family. My daughter graduated from UConn, my son got all his schooling in the state of Connecticut," Edsall said . "I'll always be indebted to the people from the state of Connecticut and the people at the university."

Edsall was hired in January 2011, flying directly to Maryland from his former team's Fiesta Bowl game in Glendale, Ariz.

Tim Willman, a Connecticut defensive tackle who played under Edsall for two seasons, said he and other Huskies players learned the coach might be leaving during a stopover in Albuquerque, N.M., on their way back east.

"We were getting texts from our friends," said Willman, who is from Fulton and attended Reservoir High School.

Said Edsall Tuesday: "The one thing [is] if I had a do-over — and it's something that I have to live with — I wish I could have talked to those players in person. But the circumstances in our profession is one that didn't allow that."

Willman said he doesn't hold it against his former coach. "Without him, I wouldn't be here (at Connecticut)," the redshirt junior said. "I'm very thankful he offered me. He cared about us not just as football players but as people."

Maryland and Connecticut could hardly be more familiar with each other. Edsall coached dozens of current Huskies players, although he said he is not permitted to maintain relationships with them.

"Once they graduate I'll talk to them," he said.

Brown, Connecticut's defensive coordinator, left the same job at Maryland in February 2011 to be closer to his family and New England roots. He is known for his multiple blitz packages

"I loved Coach Brown," Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis said Tuesday. "I loved his defense."

Edsall seemed to offer an explanation Tuesday of why he came to Maryland to accept what he has often called his "dream job."

"This is where I grew up," said Edsall, who is from Glen Rock, Pa. "Watching games here, going to basketball camps here, and being a Baltimore fan my whole life with all those sports teams."

While Edsall was at Connecticut, he had the opportunity to schedule a game with the Terps — the one the teams will play Saturday.

The idea appealed to him. He said he believed playing Maryland could help the Huskies recruit in the Washington-Baltimore region.

And he had personal reasons for agreeing to the game. "It would get me a chance to come back home," he said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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