COLLEGE PARK — Maryland's search for a new football coach was broader and more suspenseful than most fans knew, according to interviews and documents that show the school spent more than $40,000 in travel and had three finalists in play on the day before Randy Edsall was hired Jan. 2.
Maryland was aided by Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank, who loaned a plane for search representatives to fly to Florida and at least one other destination, according to a review by The Baltimore Sun, which interviewed school officials and obtained 25 pages of invoices and other search-related documents under a public records request.
"Kevin Plank has been very supportive of me, and he had been very supportive of the athletic director before I became athletic director," Maryland AD Kevin Anderson said. "He was very clear that he supports what we do and he wants us to be successful, and he wanted us to hire the right coach. At no time did Kevin tell me who to hire. I want to make that very clear."
On Dec. 20, Anderson announced that the final season of Ralph Friedgen's contract was being bought out. The athletic director promised "a national search for the best coach to lead Maryland football into the future."
Maryland said the money spent on search-related travel — including a $37,400 charter flight to rush Edsall from Arizona to Maryland to meet the school's hiring deadline — did not come from taxpayers but rather from contributions of varying sorts. The charter flight, operated by a New York City firm, was paid for from an athletic department discretionary fund overseen by the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, which raises private funds, according to one of the documents.
According to The Sun's review, Maryland or its search firm sent representatives to Dallas to interview Southern Methodist coach June Jones, to Auburn by way of Atlanta to interview offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and to the Miami area to interview former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
Documents show that Anderson and search committee chairman Randy Eaton also made a search-related trip Dec. 27 to Jacksonville, Fla. The records don't specify whom they went to see, only that they checked into a Jacksonville hotel as "walk-ins" and left the next day. At the time of their visit, Michigan was in Jacksonville preparing to play Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
The Sun has confirmed that Maryland or its representatives made contact at some point during the search with Rich Rodriguez, who was then Michigan's coach. Anderson did not say whom he met with in Jacksonville.
Representatives of Maryland or its search firm also made contact with Boise State coach Chris Petersen, according to search committee members.
Malzahn and Leach were still being considered on New Year's Day — the day before Edsall, the former Connecticut coach, was hired. Sources said Malzahn balked at coming to campus unless he knew he was being hired.
According to interviews, a private donor — it was not Plank — had been lined up to fly any of three candidates, Edsall, Leach or Malzahn, to Maryland in time to meet the school's deadline of hiring a new coach by Jan. 4, the opening of an important recruiting period. But the deal with the donor fell through and the school had to quickly arrange a charter to get Edsall from Arizona, where his Connecticut team had played in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's night, to BWI Marshall Airport.
Anderson said he received a call from Edsall at 3:30 a.m. Jan. 2 saying he was interested in the job and that he had informed Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway of his interest. Edsall was interviewed in College Park on the afternoon of Jan. 2 and hired shortly afterward.
The documents, obtained by The Sun under the Maryland Public Information Act, include expense statements and hotel, airline and car rental receipts. The biggest expenditure was to Apollo Jets, a charter company, for $37,400. A notation says: "Flight Date 01/02/2011 SDL to BWI." SDL is the code for Scottsdale Airport in Arizona.
No records were available on the travel donated by Plank, a prominent Maryland graduate. Under Armour is the official outfitter for Maryland athletics. Nor did any document disclose the total costs associated with Maryland's search travel, although it clearly topped $40,000.
Plank was out of town and unavailable for comment, Under Armour spokeswoman Diane Pelkey said.
But Under Armour told The Sun in response to queries that Plank has several times loaned his plane "to the football and basketball teams. This was not extraordinary."
The company said Plank was "in Utah on vacation when they were using his plane and was not involved on where they went or who they saw." It said Plank does not make decisions for the athletic department but that he "has consistently supported Maryland athletics and will continue to do so in the future."
Maryland also used commercial flights in its search. Records show Anderson and Eaton, who is also the athletic department's chief financial officer, took Delta flights — each was $417.40 round trip — to Atlanta on Dec. 22. Atlanta is less than a two-hour drive from Auburn.
Maryland appeared to have an immediate comfort level with Edsall, who led Connecticut from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) to a top bowl game. Anderson, the former Army athletic director, said he had long been familiar with Edsall's record.