SCHMUCK: After firing Edsall, Maryland AD Anderson puts his own future on line
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said on Sunday that he first began pondering the dismissal of head football coach Randy Edsall after the Terps were chased out of their stadium by Bowling Green a month ago, but he began having doubts about the direction of the program late last season.
If you recall, the Terps were cruising to a very uplifting finish in 2014 until they blew a 25-point lead over Rutgers and lost at Byrd Stadium, their final regular-season game, and then got trounced by Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Suddenly, their great debut season in the Big Ten Conference didn't look quite so great, and it was apparent that the 2015 season was going to be a bigger challenge.
"That did weigh on my decision,'' Anderson said, "and we had discussions about that. It would have been a very good season and it was in many ways, but you have to look back at the whole body of work, and I've done that and that was a contributing factor."
We're taking this little walk down bad memory lane to illustrate two things: how little margin for error the Susquehannock High School graduate was working with when he returned this season, and how his firing on Sunday leaves Anderson under similar pressure to make sure his second football coaching hire at Maryland turns out much better than the first.
The Edsall era produced positive results on a number of levels, but it had become obvious to Anderson and a lot of other people around the program that it was not going to produce a Big Ten football power. Now, that responsibility reverts to Anderson, who has staked a lot on making Maryland more than what it has long been considered — predominantly a basketball school.
To do that, Anderson said he will look for a coach who can "come in here and excite the fan base," which would seem to indicate that he will be searching for someone with national name-recognition, though he claimed that interim head coach Mike Locksley will be a candidate for the permanent job.
Of course, hiring someone from Edsall's coaching staff is not really an option, and — for that matter — gambling on a highly-regarded assistant coach from a successful super conference school might not be, either.
The decision that Anderson ultimately makes will determine whether the Maryland athletic program continues to revolve largely around its two very strong basketball programs or will step up to become a credible member of what is, first and foremost, a football conference.
If the removal of Edsall proves anything, it is that Anderson knows just how difficult that goal will be to achieve. If that wasn't the case, he could have left things unchanged and waited around to see how next year's solid football recruiting class works out.
Make no mistake. Basketball will provide him some cover. Brenda Frese's women's program is a perennial national power and Mark Turgeon's 2016 men's team is poised to be one of the favorites to reach the Final Four this season, but football was a huge part of the equation when Maryland decided to jump to the Big Ten.
The university has committed to upgrading the program and has embarked on the construction of a new indoor practice facility to bring its football facilities up to Big Ten standards. The next step is to pay what the market dictates for a coach with the cachet to immediately raise the school's national stature and reap the recruiting opportunities that enhanced reputation should create.
Anderson knows that, and will have to up the ante considerably for his next coach, but the decision to change coaches midstream has forced him into an interim situation that requires an expression of confidence in Locksley and at least the appearance that he will get a chance to prove worthy of outliving the interim label.
Maybe it would have been less complicated to just gut out a disappointing year and embark on a coaching search between the end of the regular schedule and the beginning of the bowl season, but Anderson clearly felt like he had already waited too long to change course.
Now, everyone knows that there is a Big Ten football job open and Anderson will have a lot more time — and money — to make this hire than he did when he brought in Edsall to replace Ralph Friedgen.
It remains to be seen if Maryland will ever reach the point where the Terps can compete on the same level as Big Ten's football traditional powers, but if this quick coaching change is any indication, Anderson seems determined to find out.
This time, it's his future that might depend on it.