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May 24, 2011Randy Edsall never will forget the first college football game he attended. It was Villanova at Maryland in 1972, and it was pouring rain.
"It was great," Edsall says. "And Maryland won, too."
Now, Edsall is the head coach of the Terrapins, a job he has wanted since ... well, that game in 1972.
"To have that opportunity here, it's always a job I had dreamed about," said Edsall, 52, who had coached Connecticut the previous 12 seasons. "When the opportunity came, it was one that was of interest to me. Everything worked out like it had to for me to be here.
"This is a dream job."
"It has been great," says Edsall, a surprise choice for the job in the eyes of some who felt former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach would snare the job. "It has been really good. There have been a lot of things to do. But it has been refreshing."
His goal is to make Maryland an ACC power using the same gritty formula of tough defense and physical offense he used at UConn, a program he raised from infancy to adulthood.
"If you look at Randy's body of work, in 2003 he increased his attendance by 20,000 people in his new stadium in Connecticut," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said at the time of Edsall's hiring. "Taking all that into account, this isn't just a football move; it's a move by the entire athletics department.
"With the success of football, then the entire department will be more successful and we can let a lot of young men and women go compete at a higher level because of the success of football."
While the Terps enjoyed a strong 2010, finishing 9-4 with Ralph Friedgen earning ACC Coach of the Year honors, Anderson felt the program had grown stale and stagnant. The result: "The Fridge," a Maryland alum, unceremoniously was forced out after 10 seasons.
At the same time, Edsall felt he had done all he could in Storrs. He led the Huskies to their first BCS bowl in 2010 - a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma - and there really was only one way for the program to go. That was down.
The father of modern UConn football, Edsall assumed command in Storrs in 1999, when the Huskies were a I-AA program playing in the Atlantic 10. The next year, Edsall shepherded UConn to I-A independent status. In 2004, the program joined the Big East. Edsall left UConn with a 74-70 record, two shared Big East championships (2007, 2010) and five bowl appearances. UConn won at least eight games in each of the past four seasons.
Edsall turned UConn into a legitimate program even though he had to work in the shadow of the school's highly successful basketball programs.
"I never really got too hung up on that," Edsall says. "To me, it's all about being one. Here, we are the University of Maryland. It's not just about football. It's about everything we do. To me, everyone feeds off each other. It's about being a part of the team and the team concept."
Still, this is a new challenge for Edsall, who grew up a Maryland fan 70 miles north of College Park in Glen Rock, Pa.
"I came here to basketball camp when I was younger. I came to my first football game here," says Edsall, whose older brother, Duke, is a college basketball referee. "And I always was a Maryland fan growing up."
Edsall has found a program that is better-suited for bigger success than UConn. The ACC is a better league than the Big East, and Maryland sits in a better recruiting area and has superior support and history than UConn.
"You have 12 teams, a conference championship, you are playing the same amount of home games as road games in conference," Edsall says. "Plus, you are playing most of your games on Saturdays, which is good. And from an academic standpoint, it helps your players. It just gives you good continuity to have a set schedule to do the things you need to do."
What needs work?
"We will be looking to upgrade some facilities and do some things," Edsall says. "We have some projects in mind we want to get don e. One of them is get an indoor facility."
Edsall isn't coming into a situation like the one he encountered at Connecticut. Maryland obviously is an established program, albeit one that might have plateaued under Friedgen.
In Friedgen's first three seasons, the Terrapins posted a combined 31-8 record, with an ACC title and three bowls. But the rest of his tenure had as many ups as downs, with Maryland going a combined 44-42 and making four bowl appearances. Perhaps the 2010 season was a sign that the program had turned the corner and was on the uptick. Regardless, Friedgen - who declined to comment for this story - was fired.
Edsall is a no-nonsense coach who is a disciple of sorts of New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. When Edsall played ay Syracuse, Coughlin was an assistant. Coughlin later coached with Edsall at Syracuse. And when Coughlin was coach at Boston College and with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Edsall was an assistant.
"There are some things that will be different," Edsall says. "We will be very multiple on offense and defense. We want to be able incorporate a lot of things we think our personnel can do.
"There are some kids here. We are instilling our schemes. They are working hard. We have a lot of work to do. But there are some young men here who have some ability."
One of the brightest young players is sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien, a rising star who is one of five returning starters on offense. The defense returns six starters. Edsall's staff worked hard in the spring forging their style. New defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, who had held the same job at Southern Miss, is transitioning the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme, a process that started under former coordinator Don Brown. Gary Crowton was hired from LSU to coordinate the offense.
O'Brien is excited about the regime change.
"He was a guy from Day One coming in who demanded our respect," O'Brien says of Edsall. "The vibe on the team is he's a tough coach and strict, but he's an honest guy and we respect him for that. It's great to have him as head coach and we are ready to have him lead us."