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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Maryland’s Upgrade is Good, Not Great

Maryland had the guts to send the reigning conference coach of the year packing, buying out Ralph Friedgen after his team made a six-win improvement over 2009, but lacked the intestinal fortitude to go through with its original plan: fire Friedgen, hire a coach who could lead the program from “good to great,” according to new athletic director Kevin Anderson. Instead, Maryland fired Friedgen and replaced him with a coach with a strikingly similar resume, one who does little to boost fan support — he’s not filling those luxury boxes on name alone — and even less when it comes to painting a picture of a program ready to take the next step in an A.C.C. that seems relatively ripe for the taking.

The circumstances are somewhat different: Edsall ran a Connecticut program progressing from the F.C.S. to the F.B.S., from Independent status to the Big East; Friedgen didn’t inherit a powerhouse, but one could say that Friedgen had it easier at Maryland than Edsall did with the Huskies.

Of course, Edsall didn’t have to play in the A.C.C., which helps the bottom line. Yes, Maryland was more talented, but Connecticut played the likes of Rhode Island, Colgate and Northeastern over Edsall’s first handful of seasons. The bottom line: over a dozen years at Connecticut, Edsall posted a 74-40 mark; Friedgen went 75-50 over 10 years with Maryland.

Each went to one B.C.S. bowl — Edsall to this past weekend’s Fiesta Bowl, Friedgen to the 2002 Orange Bowl. This is how things work: much like it pays to suffer a loss in September rather than in December, Maryland looked at what happened yesterday, not nearly a decade ago.

Well, maybe Maryland didn’t take a close enough look: can you say that Connecticut’s 2010 season, B.C.S. bowl or no, was more impressive than what Friedgen’s team achieved this past season? Nine wins for Maryland — in the A.C.C. — and eight for the Huskies — in the Big East.

There is a shared opponent, to be fair. Maryland lost by 14 points at West Virginia in mid-September, a game the Mountaineers soundly dominated — again, to be fair. Connecticut topped the Mountaineers by a field goal in overtime on Oct. 29, a win that gave the Huskies the head-to-head tiebreaker that clinched that Fiesta Bowl berth.

What else did Connecticut do? Lose by a significant margin to Michigan, scoring only 10 points against one of the nation’s worst defenses; lose by 14 points at Temple, a team that won eight games but missed out on bowl play; lose at Rutgers, those four-win Scarlet Knights; and get shutout by Louisville, 26-0, two Saturdays later.

Maryland beat Navy on a neutral field; beat Florida International, the future Sun Belt champs; beat then-No. 23 N.C. State in the season finale; and entered the season’s final two weekends — games against the Wolfpack and Florida State — controlling its own destiny in the A.C.C. Atlantic race.

This is very little picture, comparing a single season, but it makes a strong point: Maryland likes to believe it’s making an upgrade, but even Connecticut’s finest season in program history falls short of what Maryland achieved in the same season. Edsall is supposed to be an upgrade?

I don’t have a problem with the program’s decision to make a coaching change: after a decade, perhaps it was time to make a change. Neither do I have an issue with Edsall, who clearly hungered for the opportunity to coach at a program with a more substantial power base, one with deeper pockets, one with the pieces in place to play for a national title — it’s easier to make such a run at Maryland that at Connecticut, at least.

What I do have an issue with: Maryland had grand plans, but settled for an upgrade — if we can even use that word — that lacks any semblance of punch. This is a university that is worried about money, about selling out its stadium, about drumming up fan support? I am wholly unsure if Edsall is the type of hire capable of ushering in a new era of Maryland football.

Perhaps Maryland would have been better off taking a chance, hiring a coach like Mike Leach; unfortunately, as The Washington Post reports, the program couldn’t go through with its original plan:

Regarding Leach, one person with knowledge of the school’s search for a new head football coach said Maryland “got cold feet.”

“They wanted to make the conservative, safe, non-confrontational hire,” this individual said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Instead, Maryland opted for more of the same. Can one say that Edsall can take the Terrapins from “good to great,” fulfilling his new boss’s wish?

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Comments

  1. [...] and the fan base has grown financially apathetic… and you replace him with basically the same kind of coach? … Edsall ran a Connecticut program progressing from the F.C.S. to the F.B.S., from [...]

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    Leach has been passed over for numerous jobs before and after the Adam James saga. All of the stories that spooked Maryland were out there before they fired Ralph. A lot of botched hirings this season (including the daily water torture in Austin ) but I think Pitt has a commanding lead. Wannstedt stii has not told Pitt if he will coach the bowl game this Thursday ? Wow.

  3. Paul, I agree with you that Edsall is not a big upgrade for Maryland. But beyond his P.R., what makes you suggest that Leach would have been? Check out these links for some sober analysis on Leach:

    http://blog.kir.com/archives/2009/01/football_or_pr.asp

    http://blog.kir.com/archives/2009/12/the_mike_leach.asp

  4. Clayton says:

    This really didn’t make a lot of sense to me on either side. I understand Edsall is getting more money, but he was the face of Uconn football and had great job security. After reading some Maryland message boards, the hire didn’t really excite many Maryland fans and it’s gonna take Edsall some time to win over the fans. I really like Edsall mainly because he focuses on the essentials, a good O line and run game. Edsall also focuses on sound defense, something that Leach didn’t really invest too much in.
    I get the fans frustrations, but Maryland could’ve done a lot worse. It would’ve made more sense for them to keep their old coach and Edsall just stat at Uconn, but oh well.

    As for Leach, I heard he’s awful at interviews and his lawsuit against ESPN is really holding him back. I don’t know what school wants to take a chance on a coach with such controversy surrounding him.

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