Seeking to revive the University of Maryland's troubled football program, school officials began the search Sunday for a new head coach who can energize fans.
“We want somebody who's going to come in here and excite the fan base,” athletic director Kevin Anderson said Sunday during a news conference at the Gossett Team House. “If you look at football today, fans want an exciting, wide-open offense, and I think [that's] part of why we weren't successful these last six games.”
The news conference came hours after Anderson fired Randy Edsall, who compiled a 22-34 record in less than five seasons and never beat a team ranked in the Top 25. The Terps' latest loss, 49-28 to No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday, was the third lopsided loss in a row. It's not often that college football coaches get fired during a season — just three Division I-A coaches were fired during the season last year and one this year in addition to Edsall.
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley was named interim head coach for the team's final six games, the first being Oct. 24 against Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium. Locksley is the first African-American to be named football coach in school history.
Firing the 57-year-old Edsall now gives Anderson more time to look for a successor. He also acknowledged that because of the school's new affiliation with the Big Ten, both the athletic department and the university are in a better financial position than they were when Edsall was hired after Ralph Friedgen was fired in 2010. Maryland is also the alma mater of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, a big supporter of the school's athletic programs.
“As things have changed, we have more resources than we had when Randy came in five years ago,” Anderson said. “We're looking out in a couple years that we'll have an indoor facility, that we have a better revenue stream. But I also think playing in the Big Ten will make it attractive.”
Rumors of Edsall's dismissal had been circulating for weeks, as the one-sided defeats began to pile up. Though Larry Grabenstein was on the search committee that recommended Edsall's hiring five years ago, the former longtime Board of Regents member from Baltimore said it was time to move on.
“There's been an awful lot of feedback that have expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the season has gone,” Grabenstein said. “That kind of made the decision inevitable.”
Kevin Lober, 40, of Baltimore said he believes Edsall's firing will appease the Maryland faithful.
“I have people that are friends and they have season tickets and they've been giving them away,” Lober said. “With getting rid of Edsall, you might start getting the faithful back. … I think they'll start coming back with him gone. They weren't wild about the hire when they hired him from the start.”
Edsall will be paid a total of $4.7 million — $2.1 million salary in 2015 and 2016, as well as another $500,000 buyout that was part of the extension he and the school agreed on in June if he didn't coach past next season. Edsall's salary ranked 11th among Big Ten coaches.
Anderson said that the university plans to use the extra television revenue that it earns from jumping to the Big Ten from the Atlantic Coast Conference last year to help pay off Edsall and hire a new coach.
“There is a short-term cost [of paying off Edsall], but we feel that there are going to be long-term benefits and that entering the Big Ten and being associated with the conference, it has changed our economic model and we'll be able to weather this,” Anderson said.
A source familiar with the financial model Anderson plans to use said that the package for the next football coach will increase significantly in order to attract a high-profile candidate. “We will be able to double it at least,” the source said.
If Maryland can significantly increase the package, the Terps might be able to attract a head coach away from a top football program.
On Sunday, Anderson praised Edsall, mostly for the job he had done in solidifying the program academically.
“Randy's done a lot of great work, he helped us tremendously in our mission academically, he's developed a lot of great young men who played football here,” Anderson said. “Over the past two years, we had shown improvement, we went to two bowl games, but over the last six games we had a significant setback and that's why I made my decision.”
Edsall's time at Maryland started with a lot of promise after he went 74-70 in 12 seasons at the University of Connecticut.
He led the Terps, wearing the first iteration of Under Armour's “Maryland Pride” uniforms before a prime-time audience, to a 32-24 victory over Miami at the beginning of the 2011 season. Less than two weeks later, Maryland pushed eventual Orange Bowl champion West Virginia to the brink in a six-point loss.
But things deteriorated quickly from there. The Terps lost eight straight games to finish 2-10. In 2012, Maryland finished the year with six straight defeats and 4-8 overall.
Edsall struggled to endear himself to Maryland fans, and even some players, after replacing the popular Friedgen. There were culture clashes that first season, when Edsall instituted a new set of rules, including a ban on earrings and hats inside Gossett Football Team House. Twenty-four players left the program within a year.
The Terps improved their academic performance and graduation rate under Edsall. With the help of Locksley, a former assistant coach during Friedgen's early years who returned in 2012 after an unsuccessful head coaching stint at New Mexico, Maryland's recruiting improved.
Last season, the Terps finished 7-6 for the second straight year, including a respectable 4-4 record in their inaugural Big Ten season, with watershed road wins over Penn State and Michigan.
But in the end, Edsall's record at Maryland was not better than or even comparable to Friedgen's. It was similar to those of Joe Krivak (20-34) and Mark Duffner (20-35), both of whom were fired after five seasons.
Anderson said that he didn't start having any second thoughts Saturday during the game at Ohio State, when the Terps took a surprising 7-0 lead and, even more shockingly, tied the game at 21 early in the second half after falling behind by two touchdowns late in second quarter. Maryland is 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten.
“Yesterday, we lost by 21 points,” he said flatly.
Baltimore Sun editor Alexander Pyles contributed to this article.