For Maryland to be successful, Edsall needs to reinvent himself
Listening to Randy Edsall dissect his team’s latest defeat last Saturday night, watching his body language as he sat at a table inside a room at BB&T Stadium after Maryland’s 31-10 loss to Wake Forest, I couldn’t help but think of the line about the old, crusty ballplayer who warmed up to his teammates and the media right before he retired.
“He learned to say hello when it was time to say goodbye,” someone wrote.
Edsall is not going anywhere after the Terps finish their dismal season Saturday at North Carolina State, likely with another loss and a 2-10 record that would equal the most defeats in a season in school history. But like the old ballplayer, I wonder if it’s too late for Edsall to repair the damage from the past few months.
With the expected departure of several of the most talented players from this year’s team – including defensive end David Mackall, tailback D.J. Adams and possibly quarterback Danny O’Brien – and the prospect of a mediocre (if that) recruiting class, the Terps are going to be ACC bottom-feeders again next season and probably for a while.
Edsall has talked about how what he did at Connecticut will help him in College Park. Edsall continued the building process in Storrs begun by Skip Holtz; at Maryland he now has to rebuild a program that he tore apart in less than one season.
He has always sounded as if he was rebuilding a mess left by his predecessor. But Ralph Friedgen revived the Terps from a dismal 2-10 season in 2009 to a 9-4 season last year that culminated with the Fridge being named ACC Coach of the Year and Maryland being ranked No. 23 in the final poll.
Now Edsall is faced with rebuilding a team that has few impact players left on its roster and a fan base that has eroded rapidly. So what can Edsall do to change his image that has now been cast as a rigid, self-righteous control freak who only begrudgingly took responsibility for the way things imploded this season? What can Edsall do to have any chance for future success?
Start by apologizing to Friedgen’s supporters, if not to The Fridge himself, for saying that the players he inherited had no accountability before he arrived. And apologize for criticizing the rest of the fans who didn’t show up in an October snow-shower to see Maryland play Boston College. Start taking accountability yourself for your player’s actions, and your team’s performance.
Admitting your errors go a long way to being given a second chance. Being humble doesn’t hurt either. Edsall should look to see how his counterpart in the basketball program – first-year coach Mark Turgeon – is being treated because of the way he has treated others, including Gary Williams. Turgeon is tough on his players, but it’s the kind of discipline that doesn’t come off as heavy-handed and driven by ego.
More importantly, Edsall should also bring in a group of the team’s veterans, perhaps even a few of the players with whom he had problems, and ask them for input on how to change the us-against-him mentality that has pervaded the Gossett Team House, or Gossett Team Penitentiary, as some players refer to it on Twitter. In your my-way-or-the-highway world, the highway appears to be approaching gridlock.
Maybe even change some of the rules, understanding that, as the father of two college-age kids, these are still college kids you’re coaching. Start with putting their names back on the back of their uniforms. Fans are also not happy with the fact that the Terps have become an endangered species on the new uniforms, and the players aren’t buying into it either.
Not to say that Edsall isn’t trying. It is obvious that someone has reached Edsall about his relationship with the media. After the Wake Forest game, and during his regular Tuesday session before the N.C. State game, he was honest, engaging, even emotional rather than secretive, standoffish and robotic. He also seemed worthy of a little sympathy.
I know of many coaches over the past 30 years who were cut some slack by the people who covered them because they were accessible, and didn’t just give the kind of coachspeak answers that became the norm this season. It would have been nice to hear from the two coordinators, Gary Crowton and Todd Bradford, to get their take on what went wrong, rather for them to be off-limits since August.
Many people who I’ve talked to this season who have known Edsall in the past say that he’s a nice guy and a good coach. You wouldn’t know it by how he operated during his first season in College Park, but it’s not too late to try and turn this around. It’s going to be challenging, because not many will be showing up for games until the team starts winning again and not made blue-chip players are going to be buying into your approach either.
Unless you’re walking away from a contract that will pay you $2 million a year over the next five years, you’re stuck with the players, fans and media that you alienated. Doing it your way – or at least the way you did it this season – won’t work. Even your mentor, Tom Coughlin, changed when it looked like he was going to get fired by the New York Giants. All his team did was win the Super Bowl.
One more thing: think about some of the comments you make before you make them. You said last week that reading comments by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reinforced what you are trying to do in College Park. His franchise has won three Super Bowls. Your team will probably not even win three games.