Terps fans seem ready for this nightmare season to end

Edsall has made some missteps, but many can be attributed to the growing pains of a new coach

November 05, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — At one point during the Terrapins' ugly 28-13 loss to Virginia yesterday, the Maryland band struck up "Auld Lang Syne."

It was a final mournful salute to Maryland's seniors, playing their last game at Byrd Stadium. But maybe it was a subconscious wish for this nightmare of a season to be gone, too.

Oh, has this been a tough year for Randy Edsall and his players.

Is it too early to refer to Edsall as "embattled?" Just nine games into his first season at College Park? Probably not.

Let's start with the obvious: the loss to Virginia was the Terps' fifth in a row, a five-turnover stinker that had the crowd of 37,401 pouring out of Byrd in the third quarter like someone had called in a bomb threat.

It dropped Maryland to 2-7 on the season and 1-5 in the ACC. And this comes one year after Ralph Friedgen led the Terps to a 9-4 record and a bowl game.

(OK, it was the Military Bowl, which almost doesn't count as a bowl since it was right down the road in D.C. Here is Cowherd's Theory on College Post-Season Play: if your team can get to its bowl via subway or taxi, it's probaby not getting the full bowl experience.)

But I don't lay this whole mess solely on Edsall, even though he's had a tough transition from UConn to College Park.

Maryland lost some key skill players to graduation, namely wide receivers Torrey Smith (Ravens) and Adrian Cannon and running back Da'Rel Scott (New York Giants). On top of that, 13 of Friedgen's players with eligibility remaining have left the team. And more are expected to leave when the season ends.

The critics have taken shots at Edsall for all the defections. But a lot of that is the normal house-cleaning that comes with a new coach taking over a program.

Edsall is wound tight. He's a disciplinarian. No earrings, no hats in the football team house, only neatly-trimmed facial hair — those are just a few of the rules he's laid down for the players.

Some players thrive in that kind of atmosphere. Some can't handle it and leave. Edsall isn't the first demanding football coach to run off players who don't buy in completely. And he won't be the last.

But Edsall has also had his share of missteps since taking over for Friedgen. And some of them have been beauties.

He's angered alumni and former players by taking veiled shots at Friedgen , inferring that an entire culture change was needed because Fridge's players weren't held accountable.

He ticked off Friedgen supporters by professing shock at how many players were struggling academically when he took over. And he's been heavy-handed with the media at times, restricting access to assistant coaches and players.

I'm not saying he's been Chairman Mao. But even for a football coach, his level of paranoia with the press is impressive.

Still, many of his mistakes can be attributed to a new coach getting familiar with his new surroundings. And guess what? If you win, all the mistakes are quickly forgotten.

Problem is, the Terps aren't winning. And they're losing ugly. Turnovers killed them against the Cavaliers. And as Edsall pointed out in his post-game remarks, so did third-down conversions (the Terps were 3-of-14) and the big plays they gave up.

Another thing: I'm sorry, but I don't get this dueling-quarterbacks thing he has going with Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown.

O'Brien was 16-for-36 passing for 241 yards, but he was picked off twice and looked shaky at times with his reads. Brown was only 4-for-7 for 28 yards with one pick. And neither seems able to get in a rhythm when sharing playing time.

Edsall said he would re-assess the quarterback situation as the Terps prepare to face Notre Dame Saturday at Fed Ex Field, a game that could get out of hand early.

But he added: "I think we have two different guys who can help us win, with two different skill sets." So don't look for any dramatic changes against the Irish.

Last week, Edsall made a point of saying he's as confident as ever that his methods are working and that the program is on track.

And when asked if his players trusted his system, he answered: "No question."

He better say that.

Any coach that loses his nerve and starts second-guessing himself nine games into his new job won't be around very long.

The next time he hears "Auld Lang Syne," they'll be playing it for him.

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 05.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show.")

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