Terps football coach Edsall poised for turnaround
By DAVID GINSBURG
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) Randy Edsall's office at the University of Maryland provides him with a panoramic view of the construction site that used to be the football field at Byrd Stadium.
Glancing through his window on Wednesday, Edsall watched workers and cranes attacking tons of steel, rocks and pipes. Having already ripped up the old grass field, the crew has turned its attention toward installing artificial turf in time for the Sept. 1 home opener against William & Mary.
The overhaul taking place at Byrd Stadium is not unlike the task Edsall faces as the Terrapins head football coach. The only difference is that the guys working on the field probably won't be scrutinized or criticized as severely.
In his first season at Maryland following a successful run at Connecticut, Edsall went 2-10. Even more embarrassing: More than two dozen players have left the program since his arrival.
Edsall signed a six-year contract in January 2011 as the replacement to Ralph Friedgen, but more than one columnist and dozens of talk-show callers marked the end of his inaugural season by insisting the school launch a new coaching search.
"It's always tough when people write the negative about you, and they've never met you and never talked to you," Edsall said. "That's the thing that was probably the most frustrating. But that's the nature of what we do."
Edsall attributed the team's poor record and the inordinate amount of defections to the problems that come with infusing a new philosophy that stresses discipline, teamwork and academics. And while his vision remains a work in progress, he believes that better times lay ahead - sooner than later.
"I feel a lot better now than I did a year ago in terms of where we're heading. We could have an outstanding year this year. But we've still got to continue to grow the program," he said. "You get the lay of the landscape and you make the adjustments. We've been able to do that.
"Anytime you come in and you've got a philosophy you want to instill, it's going to take some time for that to happen. The thing I'm excited about is we've got so many things that have transpired since January that are extremely positive."
That new field is only part of it. More importantly, the remaining players from that 2-10 disaster have embraced Edsall's leadership and are working hard in the weight room and classroom.
"The biggest change that I've seen is the enthusiasm and the mentality of the guys that are still here," Edsall said. "They're all in with everything that we're doing within this program. That's not just the football part of it, but the academic part."
In addition, a stellar recruiting class seemed to indicate that Edsall's old-school values are making an impression around the state. Edsall secured 10 players from Maryland high schools, including standout wide receiver Stefon Diggs of Good Counsel and running back Kenny Goins, the first player from Gilman High to sign with the Terrapins since 1984.
Hard to believe. After all the misery and criticism that Edsall endured in 2011, the Terrapins put together their finest recruiting class in years.
"If I was this so-called tyrant or militaristic person, then how did we attract this outstanding class?" Edsall said. "It's very obvious that the incoming freshmen and the parents really like the message, where the program is going and the principles and values that we have."
Those principles and values chased away dozens of players. But it also resulted in better grades for the athletes and built camaraderie among the players.
According to Edsall, the football team's grades over the past three semesters were higher than in the six semesters before he arrived. And the school released figures on Wednesday that showed significant improvement in the Academic Progress Rates of the football program, which suffered a reduction of three scholarships for the 2011 season based on previous low APRs.
Those numbers are considered by some to be more significant that victories. The fans, however, just want wins.
"I consider myself a winner and a developer of young men," Edsall said. "But last year was tough from the standpoint that all anybody looked at was the record. They looked at the record, they looked at people who didn't want to be here and left, and maybe don't understand in football you've got to have a program if you're going to be successful."
Like that football field being built outside Edsall's office, the foundation for success begins at the ground level.
"I would say the program has definitely grown," said wide receiver Kevin Dorsey, one of only 14 seniors on the 2012 squad. "You can feel the brotherhood we have, the relationship we have with each other. And the relationship has gotten a lot better with the coaches."
Asked to address Edsall's tough-guy reputation, Dorsey said, "He's fair. Coach Friedgen had rules, but the thing is, coach Edsall enforces those every day. That's the same thing you're going to encounter in the real world. You can't decide that on some days you're going to speed on the highway, and some days you're not. The law is the law. He just enforces the law. I think at the end of the day, his discipline is going to help us as a team."
Perhaps as soon as this season.
"I'm a firm believer that if you have the right chemistry and the right work ethic and you have ability, you're going to improve," Edsall said. "We'll be better in 2012. I never predict wins because you just never know things that can come up, such as injuries. But we're going to be significantly better as a program in 2012."
Updated June 20, 2012