COLLEGE PARK — The University of Maryland introduced Randy Edsall as the 34th coach in its 118-year football history on Monday and simultaneously began trying to assure a rattled fan base, soothe players who had considered transferring and quickly assemble a roster of assistant coaches.
Coaching transitions are almost always jarring. Just ask Edsall, who said he had to jump so quickly to land his "dream job' at Maryland that he was unable to meet in person with his players at the University of Connecticut -- where he coached 12 years -- to tell them he was leaving.
"When you make a change in life the timing is never good," said Edsall, 52, who flew directly to Maryland from his former team's Fiesta Bowl game in Glendale, Ariz., over the weekend. Edsall -- who refers to his players as "young men" and has almost a military bearing -- appeared at his introductory news conference Monday already sporting a gold Terrapin lapel pin given to him by university president Wallace Loh.
Edsall's life won't settle down anytime soon. He said he planned to return to Connecticut to pick up "a bag of clothes" before immediately returning Tuesday to recruit and complete his staff. His hiring was rushed -- he wasn't formally interviewed until Sunday -- because Maryland was concerned that lingering uncertainty could enable other schools to lure away Terrapins recruits.
Edsall's hiring capped a turbulent, 2 ÃƒÂ‚Ã…Â“-week period in which offensive coordinator James Franklin became Vanderbilt's coach, former coach Ralph Friedgen was ousted from Maryland after 10 years and the school began a search in which representatives quickly made contact with, among others, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who was a favorite of many Terps fans; Boise State state coach Chris Petersen; Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn; Southern Methodist coach June Jones; and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, according to search committee members.
The period was as exciting -- and stressful -- for fans and players as the fourth quarter of a tight football game.
"It was a rollercoaster, going from not knowing who the next coach was going to be, to meeting with Coach Edsall and being very impressed with him," said quarterback Danny O'Brien, a redshirt freshman. O'Brien said some players -- fullbacks and tight ends particularly -- had wondered whether they would remain at the school if their positions were limited by a coach employing a variation of the "spread" offense. "It was really reassuring to know that they're going to stay in a similar offense with a similar coach," O'Brien said.
Maryland assistant coaches are still waiting to see who will remain. Edsall said his new staff will be a blend of assistants from Maryland, Connecticut and other programs.
While athletic director Kevin Anderson -- who came to Maryland from Army in October -- said he had long eyed Edsall from afar, the coach's hiring surprised many fans who had expected the school to hire Leach. Leach's legacy at the Texas school included potent, passing-oriented offenses and legal wrangling over his 2009 firing. Maryland athletic officials said they received many e-mails from fans supporting Leach.
Leach, whose final interview was on campus last Thursday, said Monday that he never heard back from Maryland. "When you get into a deal like this you don't know all the characters involved and what their motivations are and what they're looking for," Leach said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on his Sirius XM satellite radio show.
Maryland responded to fans Monday by presenting a new coach that it said offered stability, high player graduation rates and -- hopefully for Terps fans -- plenty of wins. Wins, above all. Anderson said he was already working on upgrading Maryland's nonconference schedule to include tougher competition and more marquee games.
Asked to reply to fans that might have preferred a bigger name, Anderson said: "I would say that we've got a damn good head football coach here." Maryland staff, supporters and players assembled in the Gossett Football Team House auditorium enthusiastically applauded.
Rick Jaklitsch, past president of the Terrapin Club, said: "The faction of people that wanted Leach are only looking at winning Saturday afternoon. I'm looking at the entire week with graduation rates, the image of the university. And [Edsall] is also going to win on Saturday afternoon."
Anderson said Leach "came in here and did a great job [in the interview], but I believed there were some other opportunities that I wanted to pursue."
Several sources said search committee chairman Randy Eaton was not a Leach backer. Asked about that, Eaton told The Sun: "We hired the best candidate that I personally talked to."
In 12 years at Connecticut, Edsall built the Huskies from a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as 1-AA) program into a Big East champion. His teams had eight or more wins in each of the past four seasons.