COLLEGE PARK ——Maryland opened the season a month ago with a new coach, new up-tempo offense, new team slogan, bright new uniforms and new Byrd Stadium field markings.
It all looked so fresh. The Terps, coming off a 9-4 season, beat Miami before a sellout crowd in the opener and talked giddily of challenging for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
Terps, who play at No. 13 Georgia Tech on Saturday, still hope to become an elite ACC team. But their journey has been complicated by injuries, inexperience and suspensions, and not every player has taken to coach Randy Edsall's tight discipline.
Edsall, hired from Connecticut in January, rejects the term "rebuilding" to describe his first season here. Rebuilding connotes reduced expectations, and Edsall is unwilling to lower his sights.
But it seems appropriate to call this a transition season. And it's a transition — from former coach Ralph Friedgen to Edsall and his hand-picked staff — that may require more patience by fans and the team than was popularly believed.
"It's been up and down. It's been a rollercoaster," said quarterback Danny O'Brien, whose red T-shirt on Tuesday bore the team's slogan — 'No Excuses. Just Play.' — in white lettering. "In one month, we've experienced a lot of highs and a lot of lows already. I think that's going to be good for us. We've already experienced a lot of adversity as a team."
O'Brien called Edsall "a great leader."
But not everybody is on board. One prominent veteran player said privately that Edsall's strict style doesn't allow individuals to be themselves and that he's looking forward to the season's end. Another veteran player has sought advice about dealing with Edsall from Friedgen, who was dismissed in December with one year remaining on his contract.
"A lot of guys are making a rough transition to the way Randy Edsall wants to run things," said former Maryland receiver Emani Lee-Odai, who keeps in touch with current Terps players.
Lee-Odai, who said he was in the locker room before the Miami game, noted that he meant no criticism of Edsall. He said other coaches have undergone similar transitions and that he expected Maryland would be fine "once they start to pick up and go the way Edsall envisioned it."
Edsall doesn't permit players to wear ball caps, do-rags or earrings around the football complex. Players say they can have facial hair if it is neatly trimmed. Under Edsall, players no longer have their names printed on the backs of their jerseys.
Edsall arrived a month before the new recruiting class was announced in February. Most of the current Terps were recruited by Friedgen's staff. Thirteen of Friedgen's players with eligibility remaining are no longer with the team.
The next three games for Maryland (2-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) are against three nationally ranked teams — Georgia Tech (5-0, 2-0 ACC), Clemson and Florida State. It's a stretch that will severely test an injury-riddled defense that started three freshmen last week. The defense is ranked last in the ACC at 412.5 yards per game.
Edsall said that reshaping the culture — making the team truly his own — takes time.
"When you're instilling your philosophy about the team concept and accountability and all the things that we do — and new schemes on offense and defense — sometimes it does maybe take a little bit longer for everybody to grasp than what you would like," he said.
Athletic director Kevin Anderson has said he hired Edsall in part because the coach would heed academics and value character.
Anderson said over the summer that he gave Edsall a six-year contract — rather than a shorter deal — because the new coach was facing the loss of scholarships and practice time because of NCAA sanctions from Friedgen's tenure. Upon arriving, Edsall said he was surprised at the degree of academic difficulties players were encountering on the team.
Friedgen declined requests for comment. He told Baltimore radio station WNST: "I could care less about Maryland. I've burned my diploma. I'm flying a Georgia Tech flag right now."
Friedgen, who has a house in Georgia, is a former Yellow Jackets offensive coordinator.
Since being hired, Edsall has suspended three players for various team rules violations. All have since returned. Right guard Justin Lewis was dropped from the team before the season after being accused of punching a bar manager.
Edsall's background includes three years on Tom Coughlin's staff with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1994 to 1997. Coughlin became known years ago for his strict policies about lateness. But Edsall, from Glen Rock, Pa., said he learned discipline from his father and that it's been an important element of his previous teams' success.
He said Tuesday that a key to Maryland's future is "getting everybody to believe in everything that's going on. That's the bottom line. You've got to have that before you have everything else."