Speculation about the job security of Maryland coach Randy Edsall could end any day now, but the bigger questions surrounding the future of the Terps football program will not be answered soon and certainly cannot be answered easily.
Edsall accomplished some of the goals that athletic director Kevin Anderson set forth after the Terps fired Ralph Friedgen. The football program increased its emphasis on the academic side of the student-athlete equation. The school — with the help of Under Armour — embarked on an ambitious facility improvement plan. Recruiting improved, though the rough start this season has obscured that progress.
Maybe the Terps are simply a year away from turning a corner. But it seems obvious from the rumblings around campus that the administration has figured out that Edsall is not the guy to turn the Terps into an upper-level Big Ten machine.
The first question, of course, is whether that is even realistic. Maryland jumped to the Big Ten for a variety of reasons and the school had a lot of success in its first year as a member of one of the preeminent conferences in college sports. Everyone knew, however, that while the basketball program — coming out of the hoops-centric Atlantic Coast Conference — was positioned well to compete right away, football would be problematic.
The super programs in that super conference have been around since the 19th century and they have nurtured their football traditions so well that the Big Ten's expansion during the great college football consolidation of the past decade or so has only made them appear stronger.
Maryland had its moments in the ACC, particularly at the start of the Friedgen era, but no one really believed that it could come into the Big Ten and be truly competitive right away. Last year was fun, but the Terps caught Michigan and Penn State at the bottom of a steep down cycle and proved at the end of the season they were not really ready for BTN prime time.
There's a good chance that will become brutally apparent Saturday afternoon at The Horseshoe, which is why everybody has rushed to identify the Ohio State game as Edsall's last stand.
It might be. It certainly has the potential to be a very ugly afternoon that makes it obvious how far the Terps are from their goal of being a top-25 program on a yearly basis. Whether that leads to Edsall's dismissal early next week or at the end of the year is only important in the context of how it impacts Anderson's ability to attract a new coach who he believes can elevate the program to that elusive next level.
Though there were whispers about Edsall's uncertain future long before last Saturday's embarrassing shutout loss to Michigan, that game may well have shown Maryland the schematic that could hasten a Terrapin turnaround. Fiery coach Jim Harbaugh came down from the NFL and immediately changed the culture at Ann Arbor, getting instant results and boosting the Wolverines back into the national rankings.
Anderson could take the same approach and pick off an embattled NFL coach with a good college track record (Chip Kelly?) or go after one of the highly regarded college coordinators whose names surface in head-coach speculation each season.
There is an argument to be made for starting that process right away and there is an argument to be made against it.
Maryland might benefit from moving past Edsall next week and putting out there right away that the school is in the market for the biggest available name and resume in the business. The hiring season for college coaches generally begins during the December gap between the conference championship games and the bowl schedule, so there might be an advantage to getting a jump on the competition.
Of course, the flip side is the awkward situation that can be created by the presence of an interim coach, who will have time to bond with the team and could muddy up the conversation by pulling off a couple of unexpected victories at the end of the season.
Obviously, Anderson wants to accomplish with his next football hire what he accomplished when he brought in Mark Turgeon to take over the basketball program. Turgeon had some hiccups early on, but has built the program to a point where it is considered one of the preseason favorites to reach the Final Four this season.
The next football coach must have the same kind of national cache to change the subject and rejuvenate the football team's base of fan and alumni support.
That coach will — barring defections — inherit a pretty good recruiting class, so there is the possibility of some instant results, which will allow Edsall to go out feeling like he left something positive behind.
It might not seem fair that he won't get the chance to coach the promising players recruited during his tenure, but at the Big Ten level, fairness has nothing to do with it.