Reporting David Elfin
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - When Randy Edsall arrived at the University of Connecticut in 1999, the Huskies’ football program was making the transition to Division I. When he left after a dozen seasons and 74 victories later, UConn had been to five bowls and won three of them.
However, without informing his players in person, Edsall bolted Storrs for College Park the day after the Huskies lost the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day 2011, leaving hard feelings in Connecticut.
So it figures to a highly emotional scene when Maryland visits UConn on Saturday in Edsall’s return to the place where he built a program.
“I’m very proud of what was accomplished there,” Edsall said, noting that 19 Huskies are currently on NFL rosters and that most of his players did well academically and graduated. “I was always grateful that [UConn athletic director] Lew Perkins and [president] Phil Austin took a chance on a guy who had only been a coordinator [at Georgia Tech] for one year. [They] kind of gave me the keys to the car and let me do what I wanted to do in terms of putting that program together. I’ll always be thankful to them and to the former governor, John Rowland, who was the driving force in making sure we had the stadium built.”
That’s Rentschler Field in East Hartford which opened in 2006, the season before Edsall finished his tenure with a 33-19 run over four years and where his past and present will collide on Saturday.
“A lot of great memories, but when you’re playing this game, you put all that behind you,” Edsall said after discussing the Huskies’ offensive starters, six of whom were his recruits as are as many starters on their defense plus the kicker, punter and long snapper. “I’ve got to get our team ready to go play and find a way to win.”
Given Maryland’s blowouts of bottom of the barrel FBS members Florida Atlantic and Old Dominion and UConn’s home loss to FCS school Towson State in its opener before last week’s bye, the Terps are expected to win comfortably on Saturday.
That could ease some of the emotions for the usually stoic Edsall, who became seriously choked up last Sept. 15 when talking about greeting his former players after UConn had edged host Maryland 24-21.
“I guess you could say that,” Edsall said yesterday when asked if he was glad that the first reunion had happened in the less emotionally charged atmosphere of College Park. “I’m pretty good at being able to put things behind [me]. Afterwards, that’s when you reflect and have the emotions run a little bit more. I just wished we had performed a little better last year.”
So do the Terps, who are out for revenge on Saturday, but not for their coach.
“They came here last year and beat us,” said quarterback C.J. Brown, who missed last season with a knee injury. “It’s our turn to reciprocate. To us, it’s just another opponent. There’s no win it for Randy.”
Linebacker Matt Robinson, who started at safety last year, said the Terps are focused on going to 3-0, which they failed to do last year because of the loss to UConn.
“[Last year], we felt like we get one away because we knew we were a way better team than we were,” Robinson said. “They capitalized on our mistakes. They didn’t really beat us. We beat ourselves. That’s more motivation than [Edsall] going up there. I definitely feel like he wants to beat ‘em, but I really think he’s approaching it as another game. He hasn’t hinted to us that it’s any different, so we’re not really approaching it any differently.”
Which is exactly what Edsall wants the Terps to do even if he’s the object of scorn from Huskies fans.
“I told our guys, the focus has to be on us,” Edsall said. “Any time you go on the road, they’re going to boo you. I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
Edsall’s emotions will surely be different than on most Saturdays, but once the game is over, the bigger story will be if Maryland, 4-8 in 2012, has improved to 3-0. The Terps haven’t started that hot since 2001. They went on to win the ACC title and advance to the Orange Bowl that season. A repeat of those accomplishments would be miraculous, but beating UConn would certainly help Maryland’s push for a winning season and a lesser bowl game before it heads to the Big Ten in 2014.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin