The last, and most important piece to the puzzle is head coach. Maryland improved with their offensive coordinator, and possibly may have sabotaged their season with their defensive coordinator hire.
It’s kind of funny to me that for the 4 years I was at Maryland, the anti-Friedgen crowd changed from a minority in 2006 to a majority in 2009, to the point that it was a surprise to a lot of people when Debbie Yow retained his services following the worst season in Maryland football history. And then finally, after a 9-4 ACC Coach of the Year season, Friedgen was given his walking papers to the shock of a suddenly uproarious pro-Friedgen contingent. I deduct some points for timeliness from Kevin Anderson, but he still accomplished what he set out to do; create a clean slate for himself at Maryland.
To be clear, I’m not going to get into the business of arguing legacies between Friedgen and Edsall. This is about which coach is better fit in College Park this year, and hopefully the next 5-10. The biggest fundamental difference between the two is their respective areas of expertise. Friedgen was, and still is, a highly regarded offensive mind, while Edsall built his reputation around defense. So I will be more critical of Friedgen’s teams’ ability to move the ball, and Edsall’s teams’ ability to stop the ball from moving.
Previously: Ralph Friedgen
Maryland football will not be the same without the Fridge this year. In his time as head coach, it was rare to hear a player bad mouth the coach, and in his press conferences you could see why. Results aside, the Fridge truly cared about this program and more importantly, the kids that he recruited to play for it.
It may sound cliché, but there are plenty of emotionless coaches in football (Lane Kiffin, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino) who would leave their programs and teams without so much as a note for a better job. Fridge was a Maryland lifer, and he put the Terps back on the map back in the early 2000’s, so he deserves a lot of credit for getting them here.
I personally don’t have the emotional ties to Fridge that a lot of Terps fans do because back in early part of the century when Ralph was producing double digit wins, I still was going to high school in Connecticut. I wasn’t here for the Orange Bowl appearance, or the Peach and Gator Bowl wins. But I believe I can say that those are far enough in the past that their relevance is somewhat diminished.
Since I came down here in 2006 (also conveniently the last records that cfbstats.com keeps), Maryland football has been a borderline coin flip proposition (34-30; 18-22 ACC). That record over the past five years is the 8th best in the ACC, better than only Duke, North Carolina, NC State, and Virginia. With the resources and budget at this school’s disposal, there is no way Wake Forest (a program that has lost nearly 200 more games than it has won) should have a better record over a five-year stretch than Maryland.
The offense during Friedgen’s tenure has been questionable at best. From 2006-2009, the Terps ranked 7th, 7th, 9th, and 11th in the ACC in scoring offense. 2010 was his piece de resistance, where the Terps put up 32.2 points per game (2nd ACC; 29th nationally). But even that is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Maryland was 80th nationally in yards per game, raising the question of whether the Terps were really that efficient at moving the ball, or just the beneficiary of prime field position given to them by the defense.
The past few years, the offensive philosophy and play calling produced some head scratching questions. Why was Jordan Steffy ever the option at starting quarterback when Chris Turner was clearly miles ahead of him on game day? How was the offense unable to get the ball into the hands of the admittedly raw but super talented Darrius Heyward-Bey?
Obviously, DHB hasn’t exactly panned out in the pro’s, but his junior year produced only 42 catches for 601 yards and 5 touchdowns, a step down from his sophomore year (51/786/3). For a team that lacked offense and explosiveness in those years, how were there not more short routes to get the ball to the best playmaker on the team and just let him run?
In terms of recruiting, the Terps haven’t really sank or swam under Friedgen, but rather just floated on the surface. Occasionally, certain defensive players have really shined under Friedgen. Maryland has produced linebacker after acclaimed linebacker, sprinkled in a few solid corners (Kevin Barnes and Josh Wilson), and sent plenty of players to the NFL. But similar to when Brian Billick coached the Ravens, you’re left thinking “if this guy is such a great offensive mind, then why is it that the defense is routinely the better unit?”
I will give credit to Friedgen for his apparent strategy of recruiting high school track stars and turning them into game breaking receivers. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Torrey Smith both weren’t heavily recruited, and they both were first day picks in the NFL. Friedgen’s recruiting has been average - and certainly aided by his apparent consigliere in that department James Franklin - but considering the talent in the DC/Baltimore area, it’s never lived up to what it could be at Maryland.
Overall, in the past 5 years Friedgen has proven a very good program custodian. After the fireworks and national recognition his dominant first three years produced, he more or less leveled off as the coach of a .500 football team, with one train wreck of a year in 2009.
2010 proved that at 63, the guy could definitely still coach a winning football team. But a multi-year extension for a now 64-year old Friedgen was a very risky proposition, especially with Franklin taking his recruiting prowess down south to Vanderbilt. The new offensive coordinator would need to replace Franklin’s above average offensive acumen, and take over more and more of the recruiting as Fridge got more and more disinterested with it.
Though I think the way the situation was handled was a little cold towards the outgoing head coach, it was done at the right time. After the best Maryland season since 2006, and with a great young quarterback, Maryland was very marketable to high-level coaches. At first, offensive savant Mike Leach, but eventually…
Now: Randy Edsall
Just a quick note on Edsall before the avalanche of numbers. I grew up in Connecticut my entire life, and to be honest, I didn’t even know Connecticut had a college football team until I was around 15. UConn football wasn’t even used as a punch line, because nobody would have gotten the joke, it was that irrelevant. So I can confidently say that Randy Edsall turning UConn into not only a winning football team, but two time Big East conference champion is pretty damn impressive in my eyes.
Now to get the knocks on Edsall, and there are quite a few. That surge in UConn football produced a lot of Huskies football fans, many of which I went to high school with. I’ve heard plenty about Edsall, including the 8-5 “Groundhog Day-esque” seasons. Having to go back to 2008 for UConn’s last win against a ranked opponent isn’t exactly encouraging either.
He played under Tom Coughlin at Syracuse, and coached under him three different times. Needles to say, they subscribe to similar disciplinarian philosophies. It truly is his way or the highway, and similar to with Gary Williams, I could see that turning away some star recruits who want a more player friendly coach.
However, the numbers do not lie, and I mean none of the numbers. Since 2006, UConn’s has had a better average rank than Maryland in: total defense, passing defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, turnovers created, and turnover margin. The loss of Don Brown hurts, but it appears a certainty that Randy Edsall’s arrival will coincide with a better Maryland defense for every year that he’s here.
What I will be more interested to see is what the Maryland offensive game plan is under Edsall. At Connecticut, he set the advent of the forward pass almost completely to the side, with a passing offense that ranked an average of 98th in the country from 2006-2010.
Edsall instead opted to pound away with his backs, twice producing a running back that finished in the top 2 in the country in rushing yards per game. With the lack of an elite level back on the roster, and a fast if not overly talented wide receiving corps, it will be interested to be if he bends to OC Gary Crowton’s spread tendencies, or continues to ship the package on the ground even when the truck has a flat tire.
One of the most interesting things about Edsall is that despite making his name as a defensive coordinator, he himself was a college quarterback at Syracuse. It’s certainly a benefit that Edsall probably knows both sides of the ball equally well, and definitely has his hands in what the offense will be doing. The last time hecoached a good quarterback was back in the early 2000’s with Dan Orlovsky. This was also the last time Edsall gave a QB the green light, and Orlovsky responded with 3,354 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Danny O’Brien is better than Dan Orlovsky. After the large scale coaching change during the offseason, I expect O’Brien’s numbers to be better this season in part due to Edsall. As a former quarterback who now creates defenses, O’Brien should be soaking up plenty of what Edsall has to say, and if he does, he could end up replacing the All-Rookie Team hardware on his shelf with something more substantial.
Edsall as a recruiter seemingly has in-roads in a lot of places. Of the players that he’s sent to the NFL, Jordan Todman is from Massachusetts, Donald Brown is from New Jersey, Darius Butler is from Florida. But more importantly, now that Edsall has a bigger boat, he’s shown no apprehension about going after big catches in recruiting. He’s got Maryland on the board for consensus 5 star players like ESPN 150 #9 recruit Stefon Diggs, #4 recruit Noah Spence, and #2 recruit Eddie Goldman. To make a comparison, the last four top 150 recruits Maryland has gotten have been Adrian Coxson, Kenny Tate, Kerry Boykins, and DJ Adams. All solid players, all ranked 100 and below.
To be fair, Edsall has never gotten an ESPN 150 recruit, but the fact that he’s in the top 7 for Goldman and Spence, and in the top 20 for Diggs speaks to the fact that he’s serious about making Maryland a big time football school. Just one of those kids would increase national talk about the Terps tenfold.
With Ralph Friedgen, Maryland briefly attained perennially ranked status, finishing 10th, 13th, and 20th in the coaches poll from 2001-2003. But after getting a program to that high level, it’s very difficult to maintain that prestige, and Fridge wasn’t quite able to do it in the limited time that he had. Edsall is younger, and cut his teeth on taking a team from D1-AA to an Orange Bowl in 11 years. Are there blemishes on his resume like never ending the season ranked in the top 25? Of course there are, but Maryland was never going to get a ready-made head coach with a great track record after the Leach talks broke down.
What they did get was one of the hardest working coaches in college football, who now gets to start the climb to greatness a few rungs up the ladder instead of with a pile of wood of at his feet. I think Maryland will end the year in the Top 25, even with Todd Bradford trying to competently construct a defensive scheme. I see losses in one of the first two games, and another in the last three games (probably Notre Dame depending on how that QB situation sifts out).
I have a really tough time seeing them beating Florida State down in Tallahassee considering how talented that team is on both sides of the ball, but Maryland gave FSU all it could handle last year, so maybe they return the favor and beat the Seminoles in their house this year. Put me down for 9-3 this year, with a chance for Edsall to be coaching the game that really matters down in Florida in January.