What was supposed to be a strong Maryland football team has instead turned into a squad that's rebuilding under new coach Randy Edsall. But whose fault is that, exactly?
The 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year began the game against Florida State with a headset, a shadow of the player he was last season. The 2011 preseason all-ACC defender was on the bench for a different reason, but when he played, he looked lost in a new position, like a young kid on his first day at a new school. The depth chart was littered with names nobody knew coming into the season. The scoreboard? Let's just say it reflected the talent disparity between the two teams.
The Maryland football team that lost 41-16 on Saturday to fall to 2-5 on the season didn't come close to resembling the one we all expected to see coming into the season. The Terps we expected to see in Randy Edsall's first season should have exceeded -- or at least resembled -- the 9-4 team we saw in Ralph Friedgen's final year. Enough key players returned to the point where big things should have been expected. Instead, everything, from the players down to the attire, is unrecognizable.
What happened? Who is to blame? The answer to the first question is simple. The answer to the second one is not, despite what many frustrated supporters might think.
There are a couple reasons why the 2011 Maryland football team has been so disappointing. Injuries have been a killer. When names like Kenny Tate, Kevin Dorsey, Demetrius Hartsfield, Darin Drakeford, Andrew Gonnella and Andre Monroe are on the sidelines, it eventually has an effect. Don't underestimate the effect of the self-imposed sanctions that limited practice time either. The amount of hours lost wasn't much, but it was a competitive disadvantage against their opponents.
Mostly, though, the 2011 Terps have suffered because the program was rebuilt a year too early. With all the returning players on both sides of the ball, this was a year where the new system should have been phased in slowly, with Edsall riding his returning talent the way Friedgen did when he took over the program. Instead, the entire fabric of the program has been change. Don't let Edsall's denial on this subject fool you. If it walks like a rebuild and quacks like a rebuild, then it is a rebuild.
How was it a rebuild? For one, there's the way Edsall has come in as the new sheriff in town, disciplining players and running what some have described as a "militaristic atmosphere." Before the season began, he ordered the removal of player names from the backs of jerseys, and he's suspended several players for misconduct. No matter how you feel about these actions, it's a clear sign that Edsall believes the team culture needs to be rebuilt. Edsall himself inadvertently revealed this when giving this quote.
"If you want to be who we want to be, and if you want to be who you want to be as a person, you’ve got to want that accountability. We have made a lot of progress, but when you instill a philosophy it does take time. It is not one of those things that happens overnight, but we are a lot better now than where we were."
For another, the team's offensive and defensive systems are completely different. Under new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, the Terps have become more of a short-passing and hurry-up team. All throughout the spring and summer, Crowton drilled the players to pick up the tempo. As we've found out this season, that's not something Danny O'Brien and many of his teammates do well.
Then, there's the defense. With the help of new defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, Edsall decided it would be smart to take his best defensive player and change his position. Tate was an all-ACC caliber safety last year, but that didn't stop Edsall and Bradford from moving him to the STAR linebacker position. The logic at the time was that it played to Tate's strength to be closer to the line of scrimmage. Instead, before getting hurt, Tate was getting blocked more easily and the secondary was a disaster without his guidance.
New culture, new offensive system, new defensive system ... is there any denying that the rebuilding has begun? There was too much talent to rebuild this year, and yet, Edsall and Maryland has rebuilt. So the only logical conclusion is to direct our ire towards Edsall, right?
Well, hold on a second. Let's remember the timeline of events from last December until now.
- Offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting James Franklin leaves for Vanderbilt.
- Stuck in a tough situation and unwilling to give him a long-term contract, Kevin Anderson fires Friedgen. A month of hurt feelings follow, with Maryland looking in disarray even though one could argue Franklin's departure forced Anderson's hand.
- A clumsy national search is conducted. Fans seem to want Mike Leach, and some reports even indicate Leach gets hired. Instead, Edsall comes aboard just days (hours?) after his Connecticut Huskies got blown out in the Fiesta Bowl.
- Edsall hires Crowton to run his offense. This is the one decision you can pin directly on Edsall. Crowton's stock really fell with some ineffective years in LSU, and his system just hasn't worked here.
- Edsall hoped to have Don Brown, the incredibly underrated defensive coordinator that shepherded Maryland's strong defense in 2010. Instead, Brown abruptly returned to Connecticut to be closer to his family, a move Edsall said he had "no clue" was coming.
- Stuck without a defensive coordinator and with most taken by February, Edsall tries to recruit Randy Shannon, which doesn't work. Eventually, he's forced to promote Bradford.
- The news of Maryland's academic woes trickles in during the spring, and Maryland finally imposes sanctions in July that limit its practice time.
Given all of these events, Maryland kind of had to begin rebuilding a year early. When Edsall was hired, he had no offensive coordinator. Soon after he was hired, he lost his defensive coordinator without any time to replace him. His program was hit with self-imposed sanctions that were for things he didn't do. The players may have been held over from the Friedgen era, but the infrastructure in spots where it counted looked completely different by necessity.
This isn't to say Edsall is blameless for where this program has gone. Removing the names from the jerseys seems a bit heavy-handed. Hiring Crowton appears to be a mistake. There are several other ways he could have phased in his culture slower to make his current players a bit more comfortable. But ultimately, Edsall himself didn't shepherd the rebuild. The rebuild was in progress before Edsall even got here and became more pronounced due to several factors beyond Edsall's control.
This is why seven games isn't enough time to judge Edsall. Washington D.C. is no stranger to sports rebuilds, so we all know that the toughest part is the beginning. Make no mistake about it: Edsall is off to a bad start. But as much as it pains us, there's really no way to judge the fruits of Edsall's later until he gets some players who really fit what he is trying to do.
Will Edsall get to where we want him to get? Perhaps yes, perhaps no, but it's a little too soon to say one way or the other. Until then, the uniforms are interesting to talk about at least.
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