A year ago today, Kevin Anderson announced that he was firing Ralph Friedgen after the longtime Maryland football coach refused to retire.
A year ago today, the mess that is now the Maryland football program began to take hold in College Park.
While first-year coach Randy Edsall certainly played a major part in the team’s embarrassing 2-10 record in 2011, so did Anderson.
In fact, Anderson might be even more responsible.
Not only did he hire a coach with a mediocre overall record (74-70) and a horrible history against Top 25 teams (1-16), Anderson put unrealistic expectations on Edsall with some of the comments he made.
Start with what Anderson said the players told him after finishing a 9-4 season for which Friedgen was named ACC coach of the year and the team was relegated to the Military Bowl in Washington because of a lack of fan interest.
“They told me that they want to go to the Orange Bowl and to have teams go to the Orange Bowl and they don't have to count on anybody else to make the decision for them," Anderson said. "That's the kind of person they want me to hire for their next football coach."
Last I looked, Maryland was one of only five ACC teams to go to a BCS game during Friedgen’s 10 seasons. Florida State went four times, Virginia Tech three, Maryland, Wake Forest and Georgie Tech once each.
(The Hokies are having trouble selling their allotment of Sugar Bowl tickets for their third trip in four years to a BCS game, so I’m sure there will be plenty of good seats if any of the current Terps are interested. I get the feeling that Maryland is not going there as a team anytime soon. Just a hunch.)
Here’s something else Anderson said in firing Friedgen. He called it a “business decision” and promised that the last year of Friedgen’s $2 million contract would be paid off with private funds.
Anderson was alluding to the fact that suite sales and attendance at Byrd Stadium, as well as the money raised from donors, would continue to drop if Friedgen stayed on.
Is paying off ill-fitting assistant coaches – as was the case with $500,000-a-year offensive coordinator Gary Crowton – a good business decision? Who’s paying off his contract? (Hopefully for Maryland, the unsigned contract circulating in the media remained unsigned. Demoting Crowton to an administrative position is an indication that the school is trying to figure out how not to pay him.)
From what I hear, hiring Crowton was Anderson’s idea. Edsall really wanted to hire Joe Moorhead, his offensive coordinator at Connecticut. He was told that he needed a hire to create some buzz to quiet the criticism Anderson received for bringing in a meat-and-potatoes tactician such as Edsall when you have the ACC’s reigning ACC rookie of the year returning at quaterback. That worked out well.
Anderson told The Sun today that he did not get involved in the hiring of football assistant coaches, and that Edsall made his own decisions regarding his staff.
As for business decisions, how about giving all of Edsall’s assistants three-year contracts, which according to several athletic directors I’ve talked with recently is either groundbreaking or incredibly naive.
One more thing Anderson said after firing Friedgen, and repeated several times over the next few weeks. He said he wanted the football program to go from “good to great.” At the time, I thought this was Anderson trying to be clever, if a bit cliched. Didn’t realize that this was some corporate mantra of author Jim Collins in a book by the same name.
As poorly as Edsall has handled all phases of the job – and admitted to a point in an interview with the Washington Post last week – Anderson should do the same in a more public way than a letter of apology to Maryland fans that was taken off the school's website after there were too many negative responses. His “top to bottom” review of the football program should go further, to his own office as well.
I would remiss be not to give Anderson props for the hiring of men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon. Like Edsall, Turgeon wasn’t the top choice – it was Pitt's Jamie Dixon. As long as Turgeon stays happy living here, and Bill Self remains at Kansas, I think it’ll be the best decision Anderson will ever make for as long as he is at Maryland.
But Edsall’s hiring will be Anderson’s legacy – and perhaps his and the athletic department’s downfall. How many more sports will need to be cut if the stands at Byrd Stadium remain empty, even in the student section? How many more of Edsall’s assistants will take the fall for beating one FBS team this season? If I were defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, I wouldn’t make any long-term plans.
Anderson needs to share in the blame for the mess Maryland football has become, if not take the brunt of it.
After all, he was the one who started the implosion a year ago by firing Friedgen and then made matters worse by heaping unrealistic expectations on a program that would love to be "good" right now.
Editor's note: This blog has been updated to reflect that Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said he did not influence the hiring of football assistant coaches and that Arizona's Sean Miller was not the top choice to replace Gary Williams.