Eileen Edsall, wife of Maryland football coach Randy Edsall,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
COLLEGE PARK — Sometimes on football Saturdays, Randy Edsall's wife will slip into the Gossett Team House auditorium, barely noticed by the media assembled to hear the Maryland coach's post-game remarks.
Thirteen years after her husband first became a head coach, Eileen Edsall is as passionate as ever about his career, but is practiced at fading into her football surroundings so as not to become part of the story. With all eyes fixed on the lectern where her husband is standing, the former basketball and volleyball standout -- who was once named the top female athlete at Syracuse University -- will position herself near the back of the room, silently sharing his good moments and enduring the bad.
Being a head coach's wife is a little like being the first lady. You are at once famous and insignificant, at least relative to your husband. Most football spouses stay publicly reserved for fear of becoming distractions.
But it can't always be easy remaining stoic. Not in seasons such as 2011, when Maryland lost eight straight games and local columnists -- Eileen Edsall remembers exactly which ones -- were roasting her husband in his first season in College Park after 12 years at Connecticut.
"Imagine being Randy's wife last year," said Under Armour CEO and former Maryland special-teams player Kevin Plank. "How would that feel? She's a sweetheart. She's super."
Sometimes, she will Google her husband's name -- not obsessively, she says -- just so she can know what hazards may lie out there that he needs to know about. She won't fight his battles for him, but she will act as a scout.
"I almost think sometimes people see him as some sort of a cartoon figure, like he doesn't have a real life, like he's been conjured up, like he's this machine or something," she said in an interview. "I think they portrayed him as some dictator. Yeah, he has rules. With 85 guys, you'd better have rules. Is he unreasonable? No. I think he's fair. Maybe if it's not what you're used to, you see it as unreasonable."
The former Eileen Smith, 53, has blonde hair and blue eyes and closely resembles her husband. She watches home games from a suite and travels to the road games. She has a working knowledge of football ("I can see certain things just from watching enough games") and can grow frustrated when the Terps perform poorly.
Maryland's 38-7 loss to Temple last season -- during which scattered boos were heard inside Byrd Stadium -- "was the worst game I ever sat through in my life," she said. While some Terps played hard, she said others underestimated the Owls and "they were bigger up front and they just manhandled us."
Later in the season, a few media pundits called for Randy Edsall's dismissal, and others characterized him as strident.
"Does it bother me to read that stuff? You'd rather read nice things," Eileen Edsall said. "I don't even know if annoyed is a good word. I'd probably just blow it off as ignorance."
Her background probably helps her cope. Her father, Gary Smith, was a Rochester (N.Y.) City Court judge and Monroe County legislator, and she grew accustomed to having her identity tied to a publicly known family member.
Her sports background infused her with confidence. "She's an athlete," said Duke Edsall, a longtime college basketball official and Randy's brother. "She comes from that mold. That's the best way I can describe her."
She grew up as the middle child of five siblings in Rochester, often practicing with her brothers' athletic teams because girls weren't yet afforded the same opportunities. "I grew up competing with boys. That was my edge later in college," she said.
"She was a competitor," Randy Edsall said. "You don't letter in volleyball and basketball and do the things that she did without that."
A coach's wife
The Edsalls started dating at Syracuse when she was a senior and he was a graduate assistant who had been a backup quarterback.
She was reluctant to date a fellow athlete. "It's kind of hard. You've got classes, you've got practices, you've got games. And I was doing two sports so I was busy all year round. But once he graduated and was a GA, I felt, 'Well, he's not an athlete.'"
The relationship surprised Theresa Quilty, her former roommate and basketball teammate. "I had no clue either one of them even liked each other. She said he just kept coming over and hanging around and never leaving her apartment, so I guess she wasn't going to get rid of him," Quilty joked.
They have been married 29 years, through six football-related stops. Coaches' wives must often accept nomadic lifestyles more familiar to military families than civilians.
"I tell coaches' wives, 'Never fall in love with your house because you're not going to be there,'" said Lia Edwards, who followed her husband, Herm -- now an ESPN football analyst -- from Tampa Bay (where he was an assistant under Tony Dungy) to New York to Kansas City.