COLLEGE PARK — Randy Edsall waited nearly 20 years to become a head football coach, navigating multiple stops along a twisting path that led him to Connecticut 15 years ago at the age of 40.
Edsall, now at Maryland, has a contemporary home that's decorated with evidence of a coach's nomadic lifestyle. There are helmets representing each of his head coaching or assistant jobs — Maryland, Connecticut, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse and the Jacksonville Jaguars. There are watercolor portraits — given to Edsall and his wife, Eileen, as gifts — of many of the family homes they have left behind.
The Connecticut keepsakes — the helmet, game balls and photographs — are especially important to Edsall, now 55. It was the first school to give him the opportunity to fulfill his ambition of leading a program.
Edsall returns to Connecticut (0-1) on Saturday with the Terps (2-0) for the first time since his hiring at Maryland in 2011. As much as he wants to avoid making the game about himself, his feelings about the school are bound to tug at him. "You're not human if you don't have emotions," Edsall said Tuesday.
Maryland played the Huskies at Byrd Stadium last season, losing, 24-21. But this is different — a trip back to Rentschler Field, which opened 10 years ago. Edsall faces an uncertain reception from Connecticut fans.
"He was there from the very beginning, so it's going to be interesting for him to be in the other locker room," said Tim Willman (Reservoir), a Connecticut defensive end who played under Edsall for two seasons and is now a fifth-year senior for current coach Paul Pasqualoni.
Edsall guided the program from Division I-AA to the Football Bowl Subdivision and to its first BCS bowl appearance after the 2010 season. Some Huskies fans remain angry that he left.
Edsall has said he wishes he could have told Huskies players himself that he was coming to Maryland. The team learned Edsall might be leaving during a stopover in Albuquerque, N.M., on their way back from the Fiesta Bowl.
Will Edsall be cheered or jeered Saturday? "Probably a mix of both," said Willman, a Fulton native who said he will shake Edsall's hand if he gets the chance. "I still think there are people that are still bitter."
"Any time you go on the road, they're going to boo you and they're not going to like you," Edsall said. "And so I wouldn't expect anything different. I'm sure there will be some people — my golfing buddies — that might cheer for us."
With Maryland eager to go 3-0 for the first time since 2001, players say Edsall has told them not to get caught up in any of the drama surrounding him.
"He just said, 'We're going up there, it's going to be a hostile environment, and I might be the subject of some stuff, but it's not toward us, it's just toward him,'" Maryland linebacker Matt Robinson (Atholton) said. "For us, it's just going up there to get a win. It's nothing about the fans or anything like that."
Edsall strives to not let his focus veer from each week's opponent. He said before last season's Connecticut game that it had no special meaning.
But after the game ended, the coach's voice was thick with his emotion and his eyes filled with tears as he recounted seeing players from two teams representing different chapters in his life, as if he had watched siblings compete for the same prize.
Edsall suggested Tuesday that the experience might be similar this year — that he may be overcome by nostalgia after the game is over, rather than before.
"I think I'm pretty good at being able to put things behind and then maybe, afterwards, that's when you kind of reflect and have the emotions run a little bit more," he said.
This year's game has a different sort of meaning for the Terps. It offers a chance to be undefeated before they play border rival West Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium the following week. It's also an opportunity for redemption after last season's loss to the Huskies, who lost to Towson, 33-18, on Aug. 29 at Rentschler Field.
With C.J. Brown injured, Maryland played last season's Connecticut game with freshman Perry Hills at quarterback. Hills was sacked six times.
"We definitely felt like we let one get away because we knew we were a way better team than they were," Robinson said Tuesday.
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