Maryland reached out to a number of high-profile candidates about its top football job before selecting University of Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, a longtime defensive specialist who grew up a Terps fan and was this season's Big East coach of the year.
Edsall, 52, whose Huskies advanced to the Fiesta Bowl and lost to Oklahoma, will appear Monday with athletic director Kevin Anderson at an afternoon news conference. He was introduced to many players and current assistant coaches at Gossett Football Team House Sunday afternoon.
"[Edsall] is going to recruit young men that are good citizens, good students and good athletes," search committee chairman Randy Eaton said. "He talked extensively about modifying his system to fit the strengths of the players on his team. Other candidates expressed interest in maintaining their schemes regardless of how their player personnel fit into those schemes."
Anderson had promised a thorough national search. Before choosing Edsall, representatives of Maryland's search committee made contact with former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach; Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez; Boise State coach Chris Petersen; Southern Methodist coach June Jones; and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, according to search committee members. Petersen's name was a surprise.
Maryland's search consisted of three components: Anderson, the search committee, and a search firm that reached out to candidates. University president Wallace Loh was also involved with the most serious candidates.
Only Edsall, Leach and a third unidentified candidate were invited to interview at the College Park campus, according to sources familiar with the process.
The sources said Maryland representatives flew to Florida a few weeks ago to meet with Leach. Then Leach -- a big name because of his high-powered offense and his public skirmishes with Texas Tech and ESPN -- returned Thursday with his wife and met with top Maryland officials.
"There were a lot of people, and we were hearing from a lot of people in e-mails, who wanted Leach," said Eaton, who -- according to several sources -- was not a Leach backer. "We hired the best candidate that I personally talked to."
Larry Grabenstein, another search committee member, said: "Randy [Edsall] didn't want to just be a college coach. He's been a Maryland fan ever since he was a little kid and he wanted to be Maryland's coach."
Edsall was raised in Glen Rock, Pa. The borough is in York County and is near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.
It was uncertain how many assistant coaches from former head coach Ralph Friedgen's staff would remain.
Edsall told position coaches that they would have an opportunity to remain. But he is expected to bring in at least several of his Connecticut staff members, and at least one Maryland assistant privately expressed concern Sunday night over his prospects of staying.
Edsall's background is in coaching defense. He is a former defensive coordinator with Georgia Tech and defensive backs coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He went 74-70 during his 12 seasons at UConn, transitioning the program from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as 1-AA) to Football Bowl Subdivision upon his arrival in 1999. He took the Huskies to five bowl games and won eight games or more the past five years.
Edsall, who was unavailable for comment Sunday, may opt to bring in his own defensive staff.
Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown, the former Massachusetts head coach, "went to Maryland to assist Ralph, and he accomplished what he set out to do," said Gary O'Hagan, Brown's agent. Brown's blitzing defense was significantly improved this season and was a big reason why the Terps improved from 2-10 in 2009 to 9-4 this season.
"Don would like to go back and be a head coach," O'Hagan said. "I've got to believe he'd be a good candidate for Pitt and UConn at this point." Brown declined comment Sunday night.
Edsall will inherit a team that achieved the second-biggest turnaround in the nation this season -- Miami (Ohio) was first -- by winning seven more games than last year.
Among the key returning players is quarterback Danny O'Brien, the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, who drove with his father, Matt, from North Carolina to College Park and attended the team meeting.
O'Brien had committed to remaining at Maryland before Sunday's announcement. His father said Sunday that Edsall's offense "looks a little more like Maryland's offense" than some other coaches might have run. Leach ran a variation of the spread offense at Texas Tech.
"Sorry to see Ralph go, but it's good days ahead," Matt O'Brien said.
Reaction to the hiring was mixed. It's clear that Leach would have been a popular choice. Many fans lamented not hiring a "name" coach such as Leach, saying such a hire would have helped Maryland sell unsold luxury suites at Byrd Stadium and halt the steady decline in season-ticket sales in recent years.
But others saw Edsall as a strong leader and -- importantly -- a good fit.
"UConn has a similar academic ranking as the University of Maryland so recruiting the caliber of student-athletes we go after won't be a shock to him," said Steve Hayleck, former president of Maryland's "M" club, a letter-winners organization. "He's proven over the past 12 years that he can build a program at the FBS level. By all accounts he is a good coach at all aspects of the game and it sounds like he does a great job developing and motivating his athletes. And he doesn't arrive with a lot of controversy surrounding him."
According to the Hartford Courant, Edsall had a base salary at UConn of $350,000, with speaking fees and media appearances adding an additional $1,200,000 for a total of $1,550,000.
Friedgen's job status became uncertain when Maryland decided it wanted to hire a coach for the long term, rather than have him return as a lame duck by serving out the final season of his contract next season.
Anderson became athletic director on Oct. 1, and the football coach is his biggest hire to date.