Let's give Randy Edsall credit for one thing: He's consistent.
When Maryland wins, we're told it's because the Susquehannock High School graduate and his coaches have worked so hard to "rebuild" the program since he arrived (in the wake of Ralph Friedgen's 75-50 record that included seven bowl trips). When Maryland loses, especially in embarrassing fashion as it did Saturday, 20-3 at home against a decidedly mediocre Syracuse team — it's on the players.
Here's Edsall on Saturday evening, listing all the things his players failed to do: "Making the plays when they needed to make plays. Execute your assignment; run the proper routes; tackle, don't wrap guys up; don't try to body-block somebody. Those sorts of things. That's the biggest thing. It's very simple. You have one job to do. You have a technique that you have to do. All you have to do is go out and do that to the best of your ability on each play."
Let's see, is there anyone else who might be responsible for those failings?
Could it possibly be the head coach? Could it be the guy who has "one job to do" during the season — to get his players to do all those simple things? Edsall is the king of the "I coached good, they played bad" coaching fraternity. Even when he grudgingly conceded a mistake — like texting his Connecticut players to tell them he was leaving for Maryland — he has to qualify it by saying something like, "Sometimes it's tough being in a profession where you can't always do the things you want to."
Maryland is 5-4, and there has been all sorts of whining about injuries in recent weeks. Does it hurt to lose your two best receivers in one game? Absolutely. But before those injuries, Maryland had already come out flat and already looked awful that day in a game against a Wake Forest team that has scored three points in the two weeks since it hammered Maryland.
Maryland may be the least impressive five-win team in the country. Consider that the Terrapins' wins are against teams that are a combined 7-33 against other Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Their best win, by far, was over West Virginia, which is 4-6. The other teams Maryland has beaten — Florida International, Connecticut, Old Dominion and Virginia — are 3-27 against FBS opposition.
The Terrapins were humiliated by Florida State; scored a consolation touchdown late against Clemson to lose by a respectable score; and embarrassed themselves against Wake Forest and Syracuse. Now, remarkably, in spite of a nonconference schedule that included a team transitioning from the Football Championship Subdivision (Old Dominion) and two of the five worst FBS teams in the country (FIU and U-Conn.), Maryland might not make a bowl. Virginia Tech on the road is a probable loss, and Boston College at home is a toss-up — maybe, given Saturday's performance. The best chance to get the elusive sixth win may very well come at North Carolina State, which is winless in the ACC and truly awful. (Apparently Gary Williams sabotaged N.C. State Athletic Director Debbie Yow's football coaching search in addition to the subterfuge she accused him of performing when she was looking for a basketball coach.)
If Maryland somehow squeezes into one of the bowls that exists to benefit the mediocre, there's no doubt Edsall and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson will point to the program's steady improvement under Edsall, from 2-10 to 4-8 to, let's say, 6-6. Forget that Edsall inherited a 9-4 team that returned the ACC rookie of the year at quarterback or that the improvement has as much to do with schedule as actual improvement. Edsall and his staff have recruited some talented players — Maryland should be able to recruit talent — but have failed miserably to, as Steve Spurrier likes to say, coach 'em up.
Good coaches win more games late in the season, not fewer — or, in Edsall's case to date, none after Oct. 13 since he arrived in College Park. Good coaches do not throw their players under the bus by referring to them, as "they," as if he hasn't even met them, much less failed to coach them well.
Edsall's opening postgame statement Saturday was all about mistakes — players' mistakes. Never once did he take responsibility. At one point he was asked specifically whether the team was ready to play coming off a bye week, and he said yes, but it made too many mistakes. Later he said being on the sidelines was frustrating because he so wished he could help his players find a way — as if he were spectating in the stands.
Edsall arrived at Maryland almost three years ago with the kind of swagger a coach might be entitled to given what he accomplished at Connecticut. But "my way or the highway" only works when players can see it is going to make them better. Not wearing caps or earrings inside the football building doesn't make you a better football player.
When things began to go south that first season, Edsall began pointing fingers so fast he appeared to have four hands: It was Friedgen's fault; it was the fault of the players who chose to leave, the fault of the players who stayed, the fault of Christmases past, present and future. Everyone except Randy Douglas Edsall was to blame.
The Maryland spin has been that Edsall learned lessons from that first season. Apparently not.
He got a pass on 4-8 a year ago because about 14 quarterbacks got hurt. Not this time. Injuries weren't responsible for all those things his players "didn't do" against Syracuse. Blame for that sort of performance has to fall on one person: the head coach, the guy making $2 million a year. He's paid to get his team's act together during a bye week and have it ready to come out of the tunnel at home flying, not flailing.
Last month, just before then-4-0 Maryland played Florida State, a colleague stopped me in The Washington Post newsroom and asked whether I was ready to change my assessment of Edsall after writing two years ago he should be fired — not for going 2-10 but for the way he had treated his players and Friedgen's legacy.
"The Randy Man can!" he said to me.
Maryland is 1-4 since that day, outscored 157-40 in the losses. Sadly for Maryland, Edsall's not going anywhere because the school can't possibly afford to buy him out right now.
The Randy Man hasn't. Most likely, he can't. And it will never be his fault.