Randy Edsall had been in this position before, coaching his first game with a new team. But Monday night's 2011 season opener at Maryland seemed different than it had been for him 12 years ago at Connecticut, or even when he joined Tom Coughlin to help launch the Jacksonville Jaguars five years before that.
To Edsall, those jobs were a lot tougher than taking over the Terps from Ralph Friedgen.
"This isn't my first first rodeo," Edsall said over the summer, at the Atlantic Coast Conference media day in Pinehurst. N.C. "Let me say this, going in to Jacksonville with the Jaguars and starting that program from scratch, then going to Connecticut and doing what I did — this has been a breeze."
It wasn't quite that easy, with Edsall and everyone else inside Byrd Stadium sweating out the last 39 seconds of Maryland's 32-24 victory over the undermanned but still talented Hurricanes. Cameron Chism's 54-yard interception return seemed to start the celebration, but a botched extra point gave Miami a chance to tie.
When the Hurricanes couldn't, and Kenny Tate picked off a last-second desperation pass, the celebration began anew with this little nugget: Edsall became only the second Maryland coach in the past 52 years to win his debut with the Terps. The only other coach to win his first game at Maryland since 1959 was Friedgen in 2001.
"It's not about me or anything," Edsall said after the game. "It's about the kids and the university."
But it certainly takes some pressure off Edsall — and second-year athletic director Kevin Anderson, whose decision to fire Friedgen still rankles more than a few folks around the state. The Terps have a week off before facing West Virginia, and now will be thinking of a 2-0 start rather than the other way around.
On a night when the Terps looked as if they lost a chance to blow out the Hurricanes early when Danny O'Brien made a rare gaffe that turned into a momentum-killing interception, on a night when the offense stalled in the red zone more times than Edsall or offensive coordinator Gary Crowton liked, Maryland found a way to survive with Chism's pick and Joe Vellano's fumble return for a touchdown late in the first half.
Asked about his team's offensive struggles deep in Miami territory, Edsall said, "I'm going to accentuate the positive." Though a few minutes later, when someone mentioned Chism's heroics that included a strip that led to Vellano's touchdown, Edsall brought up Chism's holding penalty. It came on a third-and-17 and helped the Hurricanes keep a drive going on which they scored.
But the mistakes were forgotten, at least until Edsall and his assistants start breaking down tape, and the first win was celebrated. That it came against a Miami team in the throes of a scandal that forced eight starters to be suspended by the NCAA didn't matter. It was still Miami, a nationally televised showcase game, with recruits in the stands.
For Edsall, the Maryland job was the one he wanted since growing up in Glen Rock, Pa., going to Terps game with his late father and older brother, Duke, who would become an ACC basketball official.
"After the game we hugged like we were kids coming to a Maryland game," Duke Edsall said afterwards. "For him to get this win is big for him, for the family, for the university and for the state."
Duke Edsall, who is a couple of years older, said that his younger brother has always deflected praise like he did Monday night.
"I don't know if he can express how he feels," Duke Edsall said.
Their mother, Barb, sat at the back of the Gossett Team House auditorium before her son the coach arrived.
"I was worried," she said. "But now I'm happy."
Former Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson said in a telephone interview earlier Monday from his home in Syracuse that he disagreed with his former assistant about the Connecticut job being easier than what he faced at Maryland.
"When Randy was at Connecticut, the pressure was to build the program and whatever he accomplished, he was the magic man," MacPherson said. "At Maryland, Ralph laid a great foundation and now Randy has to build on it. I think that's harder to do."
MacPherson spent one season at Maryland himself, as an assistant to Lou Saban in 1966. In their first game, the Terps went up to Penn State to play the Nittany Lions and a first-year coach named Joe Paterno. Penn State won 15-7, and Paterno shocked Saban by punting on third down.
"On the bus ride home, Lou was saying, 'What was with that young guy punting on third down?' He'll never last," MacPherson recalled.
Regardless of what happened Monday night, MacPherson believed that Edsall came to Maryland to finish his career and build the Terps into a national power.
"You're not going to judge him on one game," MacPherson said.
But for one night, Edsall had joined select company at Maryland. Even if it was with the coach he replaced.