Maryland, New AD Kevin Anderson Go Out On a Limb With Randy Edsall
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Kevin Anderson was hired as Maryland athletic director on Sept. 4. By Dec. 20, he was firing Ralph Friedgen as football coach, and exactly two weeks after that, he was introducing Randy Edsall as Friedgen's replacement.
If they measured such things as public approval ratings on this job, Anderson's likely has taken a hit in the last 121 days.
Anderson isn't surprised. Nor is he terribly concerned. "Part of the job. Coming in here, I knew it was going to be part of the job, and that if I took this job and had a problem with people liking me or not liking me, I'll fail,'' he said Monday afternoon at the Maryland football team's on-campus field house.
He and Edsall, hired the night before, only a day after Edsall had coached Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl, had just weathered the public storm of the coaching change face-to-face for the first time. Thanks to the awkward jettisoning of Friedgen after 10 years (and before he closed his career and a 9-4 season with a Military Bowl win) and the twists and turns of the coaching search that followed, the introductory press conference was so full of squirming, grimacing and uncomfortable pauses, it could have passed for an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm.''
What was said and written, on the message boards and e-mails, on Facebook and Twitter and in calls to the talk shows, papers and even the Maryland athletic offices, was downright incendiary. Whether it was about the move itself or how it was handled, there have been few bouquets being tossed in Anderson's path lately.
"I believe I made the right decision,'' Anderson continued afterward, "and I can go home and look in the mirror and feel good about that.''
Everybody connected to this move will be looking in their respective mirrors for months to come, because it won't be until a year from now that anyone will have a hint that this worked out.
And that's not unfair or premature to either Anderson or Edsall -- that's the timetable they set for themselves. They believe Maryland can get better now, a lot better, better than it had been under Friedgen for the last several years. Good enough, in fact, to be a major player nationally, for the first time in a real sense since Friedgen began his tenure by taking the Terps to the ACC title and the Orange Bowl after the 2001 season.
All that's on the line for Edsall is his judgment, that he can do more for Maryland in the ACC (which still hasn't reached in football the heights reached for decades in basketball) than he did at Connecticut in the Big East (which is soon getting a long-needed infusion of respectability in the sport from ... the Mountain West?).
On the line for Anderson? All this football hire does is determine the course of his stewardship of a serious player in a big-time league, located in a market area whose interest tilts heavily toward the pros. Nail this coaching changeover -- especially in the face of the scalding backlash from plenty of fans and area media -- and he cements his position well into the future.
If it blows up in his face, though, his time in College Park will mimic Hobbes' classic view of life: nasty, brutish and short.
"Maybe, maybe,'' Anderson said with a laugh, adding, "This is important, considering football is a big contributor to the (athletic) program. I believe -- I know -- this is the right decision. So yes, this might not be the biggest decision, but it will be one of them.''
The decision is in the hands of a man who was repeatedly lauded by Anderson for his elevation of Connecticut's program from I-AA to I-A a decade ago, and then to the Big East crown and its first BCS bowl game this season. It's worth noting that it is not in the hands of the candidate believed to be most capable of bringing the "buzz'' to a program that was suggested by Anderson as a reason it had to change coaches. Clearly, Maryland chose the solid footing of Edsall and his personality over the tightrope of a potential Mike Leach era.
It was indicative, then, that the introduction dealt with aspirations toward winning big and winning now, with no excuses or compromises -- rather than pirate costumes, colorful sound bites, splashy offensive schemes and lights burning out on the scoreboard. (Not to mention parental complaints and litigation). It's a safe move, just not as "safe'' as retaining Friedgen would have been.
Then again, just as Edsall going from UConn to Maryland has "lateral move'' written all over it, so does Maryland going from Friedgen to Edsall, who after the last several offseasons as the "hot'' candidate for the major BCS-level openings found himself still in Storrs.
With all of that, though, Edsall and Anderson did get to the core of the issue at Maryland, which even with the noisy opposition to the hire and the man making it, still had to do with the empty stadium seats and unsold luxury boxes. Winning cures all, and Maryland was convinced that extending Friedgen past his lame-duck contract year next season was not going to produce enough wins to bring the fans back.
For what it's worth, when Gary Williams arrived, few of the program faithful believed that a national title in a league including Duke and North Carolina was possible. For what it's also worth, Friedgen raised expectations for football the same way Williams did for basketball, without the payoff; the Terps are still looking up at Virginia Tech, Florida State, even Miami.
Anderson was blunt about the new expectations: "What we're looking for is to elevate from being the third-place team to competing for the ACC championship ... and we feel that if we accomplish that, we can position ourselves to contend for the national championship.''
That was a winding path compared to Edsall's declaration.
"I came here to win championships. That's why I came here,'' he said. "Every year, our goal is to win the ACC championship. That's what we're gonna shoot for every year, because if we don't, there's no sense in me being here. There's no sense to coach, there's no sense to play.
"You can't be afraid to talk about it. You can't be afraid to say it.''
Anderson decided that he couldn't be afraid of the reaction to everything that was done in pursuit of that at Maryland. No matter how loud and scary it might be -- and how loud it will get if it doesn't work.