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Mandate for Change: Randy Edsall takes on the Maryland rut

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

New coaches and the schools that love them (for now). Previously: Todd Graham, Pittsburgh, Al Golden, Miami, Jon Embree, Colorado, Jerry Kill, Minnesota, Brady Hoke, Michigan. Today: Maryland's Randy Edsall.

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The Old Guy. Taken as a whole, Ralph Friedgen's run at his alma mater was as good a decade as any coach has managed at Maryland since at least the early fifties, when the Terps were a short-lived national power. The program he inherited in 2001 couldn't have been further from that: Prior to hiring the Fridge, Maryland hadn't topped six wins in a season since Friedgen was the offensive coordinator under Bobby Ross in the mid-eighties, and had sent three straight head coaches packing in the intervening 15 years. In Friedgen's first season, the Terps stormed to a miraculous ACC championship, their first since 1985; in his second and third seasons, they combined for 21 wins, back-to-back top-20 finishes and decisive postseason victories in the Peach and Gator bowls in 2002-03.

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The fast start bought him exactly seven years of goodwill. That's how long it took for the win-loss record to plateau, the fans to grow bored and a new athletic director to finally pull the plug last December — just a few weeks after Friedgen was voted ACC Coach of the Year for the second time after raising the Terps from a 2-10 collapse that nearly cost him his job in 2009 to a respectable 8-4, the most extreme single-season turnaround this side of Miami (Ohio). In reality, Friedgen's days at the top were numbered the moment he agreed to promote offensive coordinator James Franklin to head coach-in-waiting in 2009. Even with a contract that ostensibly kept him in the top job through 2011, the Fridge began to look like a lame duck. When attendance turned south along with the record that fall, the ticks of the clock began to sound more and more like death knells.

For a while, actually, the awkward arrangement almost saved Friedgen's bacon: Faced with the prospect of either a) Firing Friedgen and promoting Franklin, b) Firing both Friedgen and Franklin and spending an additional $1 million to buy out Franklin's contract, or c) Keeping the existing deal until Friedgen's contract expired at the end of 2011, first-year AD Kevin Anderson seemed content to let the status quo play itself out. By the end of the regular season, Friedgen was even angling for an extension. Less than two weeks later, Franklin had jumped ship to Vanderbilt, and Friedgen was summarily tossed overboard.

The New Guy. It's hard to find anything necessarily wrong with Randy Edsall. The guy built Connecticut's program as it exists today almost literally from the ground up — he oversaw its promotion from Division I-AA to I-A in 2000, then to the Big East in 2004 — culminating in last year's unlikely run to the Big East championship and the Fiesta Bowl. He was an undeniable success in Storrs, and he calls Maryland his "dream job." He seems like the kind of guy who can change a flat tire in a driving rainstorm.{YSP:MORE}

It's not Edsall's resumé or Edsall himself that bothers critics of his hiring so much as it is the fact that he looks so much like a younger version of the guy UMD just fired. When you consider that the initial favorite for the job was high-flying, pirate-loving Texas Tech refugee Mike Leach, that goes double.

At root, Edsall is another no-frills, run-first, defense-and-special teams guy in a conference already dominated by the likes of Frank Beamer, Jimbo Fisher, Tom O'Brien, Butch Davis, Frank Spaziani, et al. He's a patient builder, and 2010 success notwithstanding, he's never won more than nine games in a season or finished in the final top twenty-five. Not that there's anything wrong with that, given the circumstances at UConn. But given the circumstances at Maryland, a program allegedly looking to spark dwindling attendance, he looks like a steady-as-she-goes hire that makes it that much harder to justify the shakeup.

Immediate Impact or Slow Burn? Edsall's appeal, like Friedgen's, is that he's the kind of "high floor" guy who can build a foundation that delivers winning seasons in the six to nine-win range in perpetuity; he could have stayed at UConn forever winning eight games a year. He's not going to let the bottom fall out, and he's not going anywhere else anytime soon. Bet that he's still around in five years, probably with a winning record.

But unlike UConn, he's not the architect of Maryland's rise to respectability, and sooner or later, just holding the line comes with its own frustrations of the "low ceiling" variety, usually beginning with a lack of trophies. Friedgen delivered an ACC championship at the beginning of his tenure and still couldn't elude the ax with a winning season in the end. Barring an unforeseen, unprecedented upgrade in the overall talent level, a conference title on Edsall's watch will be a minor miracle, just as it was in 2001. If he manages to avoid the stagnation and apathy that did in his predecessor, it will be a major one.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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