Washington is a very serious city. Decisions made here change the world. Unlike New York where money rules or Los Angeles where beauty is king, Washington runs on political power. But even in our hyper-partisan times, it’s important to make friends and influence people on the other side of an issue if you want to get something done in the nation’s capital.
Unfortunately for Maryland football fans, Terps coach Randy Edsall didn’t follow that plan during his first season in College Park. Hired to replace longtime coach/popular alumnus Ralph Friedgen, who had led Maryland to a surprising 9-4 record in 2010 that was capped by a bowl victory, Edsall was as cold and unyielding as the stone bases that hold the statues of Terps mascot Testudo that dot the College Park campus.
The new coach trashed his predecessor, cracked down on player behavior and dress, sharply reduced media access, and demoted quarterback Danny O’Brien, the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year. Some of these get-tough tactics might have worked if the Terps had been winning. However, after a victorious, nationally-televised debut against Miami, Maryland went 1-10 the rest of the way, beating only in-state FBS rival Towson and suffering eight of its defeats by double digits.
More than 20 players, including O’Brien have transferred. Their departures left only 21 players who have suited up at Maryland for more than a year. And the most important one of those on the offense, quarterback C.J. Brown, was just lost for the season with a torn ACL, leaving the Terps without a quarterback who has taken a college snap. That makes Edsall’s feud with O’Brien, who could start for a strong Wisconsin team, look even worse.
I know that Edsall, whom I covered when I was a young reporter in Syracuse in the mid-1980s and he was a nearly as young assistant coach, comes by his my way or the highway attitude naturally. That’s just who he is.
But in fairness, Edsall has also been shaped by his environment. Friedgen spent 38 of his 46 years, including the final 29, as a college player and college and pro coach in major markets (Washington-Baltimore, Atlanta and San Diego) where his program had to compete for attention with the likes of the Redskins, Braves and Chargers. “The Fridge” knew he had to court attention.
Edsall spent 31 of his 35 seasons prior to coming to Maryland at Syracuse, at Connecticut and in Jacksonville, smaller markets where his team owned the town. Before 2011, it had been 13 years since he had coached in a competitive market. During Edsall’s first eight years in Syracuse, the afternoon paper’s sports columnist was the former sports publicist at the university and rooted openly for the Orange in print.
And where Friedgen worked under the always-affable Bobby Ross for 20 years at Maryland, at Georgia Tech and with the Chargers, Edsall was mentored by the ever-scowling Tom Coughlin for seven years at Boston College and with the Jaguars.
While not exactly on a charm offensive since his horrific in every way debut in College Park, Edsall is listening to those who’ve told him to lighten up at least a little. New athletic department public relations men Zack Bolno and Matt Taylor are veterans of the more competitive pro sports arena as is public relations consultant John Maroon. So Edsall agreed to make coordinators Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart available to the media on a weekly basis. It will be easier to talk to players. Edsall will be more giving of his own time and he restored the names to the backs of the Terps’ jerseys after removing them in 2011.
None of this will help the undermanned and overmatched Terps beat the likes of Florida State, Clemson or Georgia Tech, but trying to win friends and influence people might help Maryland draw some more fans to Byrd Stadium for an unattractive (other than Florida State) home schedule, help Edsall keep his job for 2013, and help his recruiting. It can’t hurt if he’s not viewed as such a iron-fisted martinet.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin