The Maryland Terrapins were going through their spring football paces — not that anyone noticed. Practices were generally closed, and there wasn’t much buzz coming out of College Park, something that would seem to be a problem for a program desperate to generate revenues.
So what was getting out of College Park? The players — 25 of them since coach Randy Edsall took what he famously called his “dream job” in January 2011.
Columnists all over the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., media fishbowl called for Edsall’s job during the 2–10 debacle that was his first season at Maryland. Gloom and doom dominated the offseason, low-lighted by the departure of the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year, quarterback Danny O’Brien, who added his name to the list of transfers. He’s ticketed for Wisconsin, suddenly the preferred destination for ACC quarterbacks looking to finish their careers elsewhere — after NC State’s Russell Wilson headed to Madison last year.
Edsall said he was “disappointed” about O’Brien’s decision but said he wanted players who were “all in.” That announcement came less than two weeks after Edsall and his revamped coaching staff brought in a 25-man recruiting class that was ranked sixth in the ACC by Athlon Sports.
“I think everyone has a bad taste in their mouth in terms of what took place last year,” says Edsall. “We’re going to focus on 2012 and work to improve each and every day, and know we have to let our actions speak louder than our words.”
Straight from central casting as a granite-jawed football coach, the tall, fit Edsall took over for frumpy Ralph Friedgen and was charged with building on the Terps’ nine-win 2010 season.
“Good to great,” is how then-fledgling Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson characterized the move.
“I came here to win championships,” Edsall said in his introductory press conference. “I’m a coach, and I want to win at the highest level. Every year our goal is to win the ACC championship. That’s what we’re going to shoot for each and every year, because if you don’t, there’s no sense for me to be here.”
What a difference a year makes.
“When you go through change and a transition, being in this as long as I have, it doesn’t happen overnight,” the coach said this spring. “It’s not basketball, you can’t change it with one guy. I just wish every season ticket holder could have come to watch our workouts.”
Heck, Anderson wishes fans would just show up at all. He’s got eight varsity sports on the chopping block because of flagging revenues, in large part because the Terrapins can’t sell football tickets in a tough market. From Day 1, Edsall did little to move the needle with fans, who saw him as a fallback choice and would have preferred the offensive fireworks of Mike Leach.
Edsall couldn’t get out of his own way after taking over. His original transition plans took a hit a month into his tenure when his defensive coordinator, holdover Don Brown, left to become the coordinator at Connecticut, of all places. The bad publicity continued when, in an informal press gathering, Edsall mentioned offhandedly that he couldn’t believe what a state the team’s academic affairs were in.
Suddenly, as he had forecast, Edsall was losing players to academics (and losing three scholarships to an Academic Progress Rate that was substandard in 2009-10). It was soon announced the Terps would lose practice time as well, the result of Friedgen’s team breaking rules by working out too much in 2010.
Edsall and the Terrapins administration self-reported the violations and imposed a penalty of two-and-a-half fewer hours of practice time per week. It was a move that proved disastrous as injuries forced young players into expanded roles, particularly on defensive coordinator Todd Bradford’s side of the ball. Bradford’s defense allowed 457.2 yards and 34.2 points per game, figures that ranked near the bottom of the FBS. The Terrapins allowed fewer than three touchdowns only once all season, and opponents never scored fewer than 28 points in the last seven games.
Of course injuries quickly cut into the team’s experience and depth; notably, converted All-ACC safety Kenny Tate suffered a knee injury before he could get comfortable as a linebacker. But the Terrapins never adapted to the new defensive system, giving up an average of 5.9 yards per play and allowing foes to convert 54 percent on third downs.
The Terrapins built an 18-point lead against Clemson only to go into a shell and fall 56–45. They lost 38–7 to a Temple team that simply ran over them, a sign of big trouble in the fourth week.
Ballyhooed offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s system didn’t fit either. A hurry-up offense couldn’t protect that shorthanded defense, and the spread option didn’t suit the pass-happy O’Brien.
The loss of Torrey Smith in the NFL Draft hurt the receiving corps. Returning receivers dropped the ball literally and figuratively. Injuries on the offensive line, most notably to team leader Andrew Gonella, hampered the running attack and limited O’Brien’s effectiveness in play-action. Special teams were far from special. Seemingly each week, the coverage units gave up a big play or suffered a big penalty that helped unhinge a team that had little margin for error.
Not surprisingly, Edsall now has three new coordinators. Former NFL defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, late of the University of Houston, has come aboard to install an attacking 3-4 scheme loaded with guys who played last year thanks to all those injuries. Eight starters, including the entire linebacking unit, were sidelined for at least three games.
Running backs coach Andre Powell takes over the special teams, having served in a similar capacity at Clemson and North Carolina.
On offense, former Maryland assistant Mike Locksley, recently the head coach at New Mexico, returned to put in a pro-style spread that should be able to take advantage of quarterback C.J. Brown’s strengths. Locksley, who has always made his bones as a recruiter, came aboard in time to help the Terps sign the surprisingly strong recruiting class.
Stefon Diggs, a 5-star athlete/receiver from nearby Olney, Md., is the biggest signee in recent Maryland history, and one of a handful of newcomers who is expected to inject some life back in the offense.
Meanwhile, Edsall is doing a lot of the things he said he would. The team’s grade-point average in the spring and fall — the first two full semesters on his watch — were the first two times the Terps had a cumulative GPA over 2.5 in eight years.
And as for the 25 departed players over the past year? In some ways, it is addition through subtraction, particularly if Edsall & Co. can recruit like they did this winter.
“I think all of our players understand what the program is that we have at the University of Maryland,” he says. “They get that we’re trying to make them better people, better students and better athletes. They understand that and they’re all in.”
— by Mike Ashley
This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 ACC Preview Annual.
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