Third year will be crucial for Randy Edsall at Maryland

COLLEGE PARK — — Inside Randy Edsall's large, contemporary home hangs a framed newspaper bearing a photo of the coach with his arms raised and his jubilant Connecticut players dancing around him on the sideline.

The accompanying story chronicles one of Edsall's big, early wins at UConn, a program he helped transition — painfully at times — from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as 1-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision.


"Arrival Time," the headline screams in bold, oversized lettering.

As Edsall enters his third Maryland season, Terps fans are waiting to see if his latest program — fashioned increasingly in his image — has arrived.


During his first two seasons — in which the Terps lost 18 of 24 games — Edsall said improvement was part of a building process. "It doesn't happen overnight," he said after his first year.

The hope and belief around College Park is that this year's team — which has just four senior starters and is largely built around Edsall's own recruits — has reached critical mass.

"We're closer to where I want to be than we were a year ago. We're gaining on it every day," Edsall said Thursday. "We're still not where we need to be with the kind of depth I want to have."

Edsall's program seems to have emerged from the difficult period after he replaced Ralph Friedgen, a former Terps player who had been coach for 10 years. About a dozen players with eligibility left Maryland after Edsall's first year, and his initial offensive and defensive coordinators lasted one season. Edsall was criticized by local columnists for his record and team rules. The coach, who can display a temper, remained upbeat in public, refusing to show the strain.


"He got into a mess," said Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who has coached against Edsall and, like the Maryland coach, has been in the business for more than 30 years. "It's hard to hire the right people. Randy is starting to get the people around him that he's comfortable with. He was in a very precarious situation. He had a group of guys that had been with him [at Connecticut] and knew him and he couldn't bring all of them."

Bennett said fans aren't known for being patient. "This is an instant gratification society. But you look at the coaches that have stuck. Look at [Virginia Tech coach] Frank Beamer. Look at his first four or five years," Bennett said.

Beamer was 22-32-1 in his first five Virginia Tech seasons and is 258-127-4 now.

A roster breakdown shows the degree to which Maryland has become Edsall-ized. The team is heavy on underclassmen too new to have played for Friedgen.

Of the players on Maryland's current travel squad, 19 are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. There are 21 sophomores and 18 juniors.

Just eight of the 66 travel squad members are seniors.

"For anyone in life — not just our football team — change is difficult," said cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, a redshirt junior whose first year on the team was Friedgen's last. "I think some of the older guys may have had a harder time than some of us younger guys. We weren't really under the old regime for that long, so it wasn't that much of an adjustment. You've definitely seen over the past few years that the trust has built and people are buying into what [Edsall] wants to do here."

This season, coaches have introduced new measures to try to promote unity.

Maryland ends practices with a shout of "Hold the Rope," the team's unofficial motto.

The meaning? Imagine you're dangling from a cliff and relying on a teammate to reel you in.

The slogan appears on the cover of every playbook — as well as on bright red wrist bands sported by starting quarterback C.J. Brown, among others.

"Drew Wilson, our strength coach, came to the team with the idea and said, 'This is going to be our motto for the offseason,'" Brown said.

Brown and the other Terps hope to benefit from continuity this season.

Before this year, Maryland had employed three offensive coordinators and three defensive coordinators in three seasons.

The Terps went from a West Coast offense under former coordinator James Franklin in 2010, to a no-huddle, spread style under Gary Crowton in 2011, to Mike Locksley's pro-style offense with varied sets last year.

On defense, the Terps transitioned last season to the 3-4 of coordinator Brian Stewart.

This year, Locksley and Stewart both return.

"I think continuity is the key to any successful program," said Locksley, the former New Mexico coach and Towson defensive back. "Across the board, if you look at all the great teams, teams that have been successful year in and year out, it usually starts with the continuity of the head coach being in place. I know for us on the offensive side of the ball, [it helped] not having to come in and teach my system to the coaches and then have them go out and teach it to their players. Now there is a familiarity."

Locksley's offense allows Brown to run a read option — a style that suits him because of his speed. Brown has three of the top eight rushing performances by a Maryland quarterback.

The read option "puts a lot more pressure on the defense," Brown said. "If they're going to blitz, it's easier for us to knife them for a big play because you've got to account for the quarterback as an option."

After missing last season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, Brown said he can hardly remember being so excited for a season to begin.

But after winning two games in 2011 and four in 2012, Brown and others feel the weight of expectations in their final season before Maryland joins the Big Ten.

"We're in a critical spot," defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "We've got to have a good year."


Maryland at a glance

Coach: Randy Edsall (third season)

Conference: ACC

Last season: 4-8

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

Stadium: Byrd Stadium

Tickets: Season tickets and single-game tickets are available. For information, go to umterps.com

Offense: Pro-style with multiple sets.

Defense: 3-4

Outlook: More optimism surrounds Edsall's third season than the preceding two. After winning two games in 2011 and four games last season, the Terps believe they can have a winning season and return to their first bowl game since 2010.

The team's spirits were boosted during training camp by the return of a trio of previously injured quarterbacks. The group is led by C.J. Brown, a graduate student with quickness and experience. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will employ a read option in which Brown is expected to be a legitimate running threat as well as a passer. The fortunes of the offense will rest partly on how well a reconfigured offensive line — with new starters Michael Dunn and Ryan Doyle — can block for Brown and tailback Brandon Ross, last season's leading rusher. Returning receiver-returner Stefon Diggs — the team's most talented player — is counted on to produce even bigger numbers than in 2012.

Maryland will have a new look on defense. The team will still run a 3-4 but will count on new players up front — notably Quinton Jefferson and Darius Kilgo — in the absence of the departed Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis. Six defensive starters were lost overall.


The Terps were strong enough in the secondary — cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson return — to have been comfortable switching safety Matt Robinson to linebacker.