Terrapin TailspinWednesday, February 22nd, 2012
The court of public opinion has the University of Maryland’s football coach on the hot seat. If you’re hoping in this alum you’ve found another fist-shaker on the Fire Randy Edsall Bandwagon, though, I’m afraid you may need to recalibrate your cyber-GPS. I don’t advocate canning any coach after Year One unless the catalyst is of cataclysmic proportions: NCAA violations. Violent crime. Disdain for dark chocolate (OK, the last one’s inconceivable to me, but not really grounds for dismissal).
There’s simply not an ample enough sample size after one season to evaluate someone fairly, particularly when new systems have been installed on both sides of the ball. Ask Kenny Tate, All-ACC safety in 2010, about his struggles transitioning to linebacker this past season until a mystery injury landed him a medical redshirt. Or quarterback Danny O’Brien about being the league’s Freshman of the Year in James Franklin’s offense, yet Clipboard Holder in Gary Crowton’s up-tempo system. Players aren’t one-size-fits-all. Further exacerbating Edsall’s situation, the departure of some of Ralph Friedgen’s swan song studs. Current NFLers Torrey Smith and Da’Rel Scott on offense (Smith was also the most prolific kick returner in ACC history) and top tackler Alex Wujciak on defense. Wanna understand how the Terps went from 9-4 to 2-10? Voila.
But that’s obviously not all. Edsall’s challenges run deeper than personnel and x’s and o’s. By many accounts, he lacks a commanding respect of his locker room and he’s, unfortunately, become a bit of a PR trainwreck. At a basketball school like Connecticut? Eh. That stuff could fly under the radar, especially since Edsall delivered gridiron success to Storrs. In College Park, a place that’s not a football juggernaut, but has had pockets of prosperity and is nestled between two major media markets? Not so much.
If Edsall’s maiden voyage were transposed, of course, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You can get away with a whole lot more at 10-2 than 2-10. Throwing your players and your predecessor under the bus. Not giving an inch with the media. Trying to prevent the former starting QB from transferring anywhere but Southwestern Middle of Nowhere State. But Edsall isn’t Les Miles. Or Nick Saban. Or Urban Meyer. He can’t bellow at the top of his lungs, “I have the championship formula, men! Blindly follow my lead!”
I’ve had several conversations of late with industry leaders, in and out of coaching, probing them for keys to success during a transition. The common threads: 1) Don’t make wholesale changes right away. 2) Summon your leaders. Take their pulse. What do they like/dislike about the situation? Make them feel a part of the process. 3) Earn their trust. 4) Assess all the information. 5) Make confident decisions based on said information. 6) Don’t ever out anyone publicly.
Edsall has a militaristic coaching style. That’s no surprise, having been plucked from a coaching tree with steely roots. He played for Tom Coughlin at Syracuse, then served there as a Coughlin assistant and followed him to Boston College and the Jacksonville Jaguars. But as someone who’s covered Coughlin since his early days with the Jags, I’ve seen the gradual loosening of his iron fist. To his credit, Coughlin realized in recent years his if-you’re-not-five-minutes-early-to-meetings-you’re-late mantra doesn’t resonate with today’s athletes. His reward, in part, for easing up a bit: two Super Bowl rings with the Giants in the last five seasons.
That said, I could honestly never imagine Pre-Relatively Chill Coughlin pulling what Edsall has with O’Brien and other players requesting transfers. I understand nixing ACC schools, even though Duke, on O’Brien’s short list before choosing Maryland, has had all of three– count ‘em, one, two, three– winning seasons in the past 30 years. Other rivals? Teams on the Terps’ schedule? Sure. Have at it.
But Vanderbilt? Really? The Commodores aren’t slated to face Maryland any time soon. Based on past rosters I’ve looked at, they’re not gunnin for the same kids (although Franklin, in the short term, is obviously trying to lure some of his Maryland prospects to Vandy). The only link is James Franklin, who fled College Park for Nashville when it became apparent new Terps athletic director Kevin Anderson wasn’t geeked about Debbie Yow’s “coach in waiting” designation.
It. Just. Makes. No. Sense. Particularly in O’Brien’s case, because Edsall benched him in an offense designed by Crowton, who’s now coaching in the Canadian Football League! Seems a wee bit petty and childish.
O’Brien also gets sympathy points in my book because in a sport that far too often fails to graduate its players, he’s more than upheld the “student” portion of the student-athlete creed. Diploma in three years. Two years of eligibility remaining. Let the kid have a fresh start. With his old coach. At Vandy. No harm, no foul.
And how about the cherry on top SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg speaks of in his most recent column? Maryland, willing to send the Welcome Wagon for New Mexico transfers now that their former coach, Mike Locksley, is the Terps new O-coordinator. Yeesh.
It’s a mess in College Park, but not a situation beyond repair. And even if it was, let’s face it. Maryland’s athletic department is grappling with a massive budget deficit that’s put eight teams on the chopping block. Edsall’s not goin anywhere.
If the football coach takes a long, hard look at Season One, he’ll see a fractured locker room with players running for the door and a public persona in dire need of a makeover. Acknowledging change is necessary is a solid first step. Humility and contrition would be a nice touch. After all, America loves a good second-chance story. Look at Mike Vick. Or Charlie Sheen, for goodness sake.
The university would be wise to provide Edsall with the resources for smoothing out his rough edges. Like media training. Mabye Edsall pops over to Mark Turgeon’s office for a crash course in player relations. A couple weeks ago, the Terps’ successor to hoops coaching legend Gary Williams was facing dissention among the ranks. His top scorer, Terrell Stoglin, griped about playing time on Twitter after Maryland got manhandled by Duke. Instead of calling out Stoglin publicly, Turgeon pulled him aside. Helped him understand he was only hurting himself by sulking on the court and whining on social media. Rather than letting the locker room get out of hand, Turgeon gave his players a two-day cooling off period. It worked. The Terps blew out Boston College in the next game, powered by Stoglin’s 24 points.
But if I’m Randy Edsall, the first call I’m making is to my mentor. Tom Coughlin knows all about being on the coaching hot seat. And how to get off it.