COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — As Maryland weighed the possibility of shifting from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten, athletic director Kevin Anderson asked Terrapins football coach Randy Edsall his opinion of the bold, ambitious move.
Edsall hesitated for about a second before responding.
“I told him we should jump at the opportunity,” Edsall said. “If we didn’t, we would be making a mistake.”
Maryland, a charter member of the ACC in 1953, made the move official in November 2012.
In just a few months the Terrapins will begin play in one of the most competitive and prestigious football conferences in the nation. The schedule includes Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan State.
Edsall can hardly contain his excitement. Not only is he convinced that he’s the right coach to take the Terrapins on their historic journey, but he expects to win — immediately.
“The challenge is to try to prove people wrong, those people who don’t think we’re going to be able to be competitive from the get-go,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“Do we have as many quality student athletes as some of the people we’re going to play? Probably not, if you take a look at the rankings,” Edsall said. “But I know this: Our players are excited about what we have, and we’re going to prepare well.”
The 55-year-old Edsall experienced success as an assistant at Syracuse, Boston College, with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars and at Georgia Tech before taking over as head coach at Connecticut in December 1998. There, he led the Huskies from Division-IAA to I-A, twice capturing the Big East title in addition to becoming the winningest head coach in school history.
Edsall then replaced Ralph Friedgen at Maryland — and started with a huge thud. His tough, disciplinary technique was not received well by the players, and the team’s 2-10 record in 2012 was deemed a disaster.
The Terrapins went 4-8 the following year, losing their final six games in a season made notable by the loss of four quarterbacks to injury. Last year, Edsall guided Maryland to a 7-6 finish that included a trip to the Military Bowl.
“I’m pleased with the progress that we’re making,” Edsall said. “The philosophy of the program, the team concept of what we wanted to establish when we got here, is working. We’ve basically built the house — we put the foundation in, now we’ve got the house up. What we’re going to continue to do is keep making it nicer on the inside and outside.”
The players have bought into Edsall’s leadership. The coach has gradually lightened his heavy-handed approach, and the results speak volumes.
“When you first come into a program, he had to be tough on us,” senior cornerback Jeremiah Johnson said. “If you allow too much leeway, then guys take advantage of it. The first thing you have to do is earn respect. That’s how he was. Since he’s been here, you can see he’s opened up and is more of a player’s coach.”
Anderson received no small amount of criticism for firing Friedgen, a Maryland alum who brought the program back into prominence. But Anderson saw Edsall turn tiny UConn into a powerhouse in the Big East, and believes Maryland will ultimately hold its own in the Big Ten.
“When I went through the hiring process, I saw that everywhere Randy’s been, he’s been successful and he’s built from within,” Anderson said. “He’s doing that right now. In intercollegiate athletics, you have to have a manager of academics and athletics — we’re talking about football here — and he’s definitely the right guy for the job.”
In his first season at Maryland, Edsall dealt with an exodus of disgruntled players. In his second and third seasons, injuries to key performers proved pivotal. But nothing has altered his well-conceived path.
“I didn’t come here to Maryland to make it a quick fix,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that you always want to come in and make the program better than what it was when you got here. In every situation I’ve been in as an assistant and a head coach, we’ve been able to do that. And it’s always been with a well-thought out plan, one that didn’t cut corners and one that ended up developing players the right way.
“I understand the trials and tribulations that you have to go through, and I understand the kind of people we’re going to need to compete for a Big Ten championship. And we’re working each and every day to acquire those pieces, and to continue to build the program.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)