TERPS A.D. FACES REST­LESS FAN BASE

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY ERIC PRIS­BELL AND STEVE YANDA

As many Mary­land fans warm to the idea ofRandyEd­sall coach­ing the school’s

foot­ball­team, scores of prom­i­nent donors con­tinue to raise ques­tions and con­cerns about the search process that led to the for­mer Con­necti­cut coach re­plac­ing Ralph Fried­gen.

Tele­phone and e-mail con­ver­sa­tions with nearly 100 Mary­land donors this week helped paint a pic­ture of a fan base that largely has taken is­sue with the lead­er­ship demon­strated by first-year Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Kevin An­der­son, who shook up the foot­ball pro­gram and ran­kled fans three months into the job by fir­ing Fried­gen, the reign­ing ACC coach of the year, and mak­ing an un­pop­u­lar head coach­ing hire.

No one con­tacted guar­an­teed they would can­cel sea­son ticket pack­ages or halt do­na­tions, though some noted they would of­fer their money to the ath­letic depart­ment grudg­ingly for the time be­ing. Al­most all agreed on the im­por­tance now to em­brace the new­head coach. And many of­fered per­spec­tives on an ath­letic di­rec­tor who, while in­ter­act­ing of­ten with the fan base, keeps an in­ner cir­cle that may in­clude just two other school of­fi­cials.

“ The ath­letic di­rec­tor, while his in­ten­tions may have been good, I think han­dled it very poorly,” John Llewellyn, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Ter­rapin Club, said of An­der­son’s per­for­mance the past month. “I think the uni­ver­sity suf­fered be­cause of it, its rep­u­ta­tion and its com­pe­tence. Not that Mary­land can’t re­cover from it; I hope Coach Ed­sall turns out to be a good hire. But I’m dis­ap­pointed in the uni­ver­sity.”

Dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the de­ci­sion to hire Ed­sall over for­mer Texas Tech coach Mike Leach — the pop­u­lar yet con­tro­ver­sial fi­nal­ist who also in­ter­viewed on cam­pus— emergedafter speak­ing with dozens of well-con­nected peo­ple in­side and out­side Mary­land’s ath­letic depart­ment. Some say Ed­sall had the in­side track from the be­gin­ning de­spite me­dia re­ports tout­ing Leach. Oth­ers say op­po­si­tion to Leach mounted af­ter­hein­ter­viewe­doncam­pusDec. 30, the same day his wife, Sharon Leach, spent six hours with a real es­tate agent, at Mary­land’s urg­ing, look­ing at houses around the area.

Sep­a­rate fromThePost’s sur­vey of nearly 100 donors, ad­di­tional in­di­vid­u­als close to the ath­letic depart­ment said high-rank­ing uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials had reser­va­tions about Leach be­cause of his past: He was fired fromTex­as­Tech in De­cem­ber 2009 for al­leged mis­treat­ment of a player, and Leach has law­suits pend­ing against ESPN and Texas Tech. One per­son fa­mil­iar with the search said the school viewed the coach­ing job as the same as a fac­ulty po­si­tion at a re­search uni­ver­sity and that Leach did not fit that pro­file. The sourcesspokeon­con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not per­mit­ted to dis­close their knowl­edge of the search.

Some say Wil­liam “Brit” Kir­wan, chan­cel­lor of the Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land, in­flu­enced the de­ci­sion; oth­ers say An­der­son made it on his own. In a tele­phone in­ter­view, Kir­wan de­nied in­volve­ment. Dur­ingMon­day’snews con­fer­ence to in­tro­duce Ed­sall, An­der­son made a point in his open­ing re­marks— be­fore be­ing asked a ques­tion— of say­ing Kir­wan­was not in­volved in the de­ci­sion.

An­der­son said he had a “won­der­ful” dis­cus­sion with Leach dur­ing the in­ter­view process but that Ed­sall was the best can­di­date — and that the fi­nal de­ci­sion was An­der­son’s.

When asked about con­flict­ing sto­ries on why Leach fell out of con­tention, An­der­son did not pro­vide any clar­ity but of­fered the fol­low­ing ob­ser­va­tion: “ The story con­flicts from whomever you talk to about it. It’s his story, her story, and some­where in there is the truth. You hear what­ever ev­ery­one says and there are a lot of

“If I took this job and had a prob­lem with peo­ple lik­ing me or not lik­ing me, I will fail.”

— Kevin An­der­son, Mary­land ath­letic di­rec­tor

con­flicts.”

The NCAA on Fri­day placed Texas Tech on two years pro­ba­tion fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that found coaches in three sports — in­clud­ing foot­ball — com­mit­ted re­cruit­ing vi­o­la­tions in­volv­ing text mes­sag­ing. The foot­ball pro­gram’s vi­o­la­tions oc­curred dur­ing the pe­riod in which Leach led the Red Raiders. Mary­land se­nior as­so­ci­ate ath­letic di­rec­tor Randy Ea­ton, who chaired the school’s search com­mit­tee to find the next head foot­ball coach, said Fri­day evening he was not aware of the NCAA’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion or find­ings re­gard­ing Texas Tech.

Ed Downey, a for­mer Ter­rapin Club pres­i­dent who owns a suite in Byrd Sta­dium, har­bored con­cerns that Leach would be hired with­out of­fi­cials thor­oughly vet­ting his back­ground. But after­ward, Downey, who was not con­sulted in the search, called the search a “well-con­sid­ered process” and said An­der­son “demon­strated that he is in charge and will make the right de­ci­sions.”

But a vo­cal seg­ment of the fan base feels An­der­son led fans to be­lieve he fired Fried­gen so he could­make anat­ten­tion-grab­bing hire— namely, Leach— tore-en­er­gize a di­min­ished fan base. As some note, Leach was the only can­di­date An­der­son was will­ing to men­tion by name dur­ing the Dec. 20 news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing Fried­gen’s fir­ing.

Some fans have been en­raged. One of the seven mem­bers of the search com­mit­tee re­ceived a ha­rass­ing phone call from an an­gry fan at 3 a.m. Mon­day morn­ing. There are two “Fire Kevin An­der­son” pages on Face­book. Cindy Sk­iles, a 1985 Mary­land grad­u­ate who an­nu­ally do­nates at least $11,000 to the ath­letic depart­ment, is one of 101 peo­ple who “ likes” one of the pages. Sk­iles, who felt the last few weeks have been “un­co­or­di­nated, un­pro­fes­sional,” had high hopes for the hire when An­der­son fired Fried­gen.

“When I heard we had hired [Ed­sall], I was like: ‘Holy crap. Where did this come from?’ ” she said. “ To me, it looks like we have thrown away our sta­ble suc­ces­sion plan . . . and now we have tossed it all up in the air, and to some ex­tent it does not look a wholelot bet­teron­pa­per. I amjust re­ally con­fused. I am dis­ap­pointed. Part of me is a lit­tle mad. Why did you put us through all of this? Maybe we should just get over our­selves and say we are go­ing to be medi­ocre.”

Bud Adams, a Ter­rapin Club mem­ber who do­nates at least $5,500, said, “Why would you go and ba­si­cally sever a re­la­tion­ship and let it be known and not know what the heck you’re go­ing to do, or at least have a good idea? To get cold feet with this guy, Leach, it just seems like [An­der­son] is in over his head. I have not been im­pressed at all and re­ally have not been happy with it, the way things have been han­dled.”

Bernie Farkas, who said he has given mul­ti­ple gifts of more than $100,000 to theMary­land ath­letic depart­ment, fa­voredLeach for the job be­cause he be­lieves the foot­ball pro­gram needs pub­lic­ity and Leach would have been the “foot­ball ver­sion of Lefty Driesell.” Sea­son ticket sales have de­clined for five straight sea­sons, and the school fell more than $500,000 short of sea­son ticket sales pro­jec­tions each of the past two sea­sons. Even if Ed­sall is win­ning games, many ques­tion whether he can cre­ate enough buzz to fill Byrd Sta­dium, which was filled to 75 per­cent ca­pac­ity only once this past sea­son, when the Ter­rap­ins fin­ished 9-4.

And­still oth­ers be­lieve it is time to move on. Larry Boyd, a 1972 Mary­land grad­u­ate and 26-year Ter­rapin Club mem­ber, be­lieves fans should trust the de­ci­sion­mak­ers. He com­pared the news of Ed­sall’s hire to hear­ing that your 19-year-old daugh­ter is preg­nant.

“You are not happy, but there is re­ally noth­ing pos­i­tive you can do but sup­port her and learn to love the out­come,” Boyd said. “If he wins nine games, wins the ACC cham­pi­onship, plays in the Orange Bowl, all will be for­got­ten. It will have been the right de­ci­sion. If not, we will all live with what hap­pens, like a fam­ily would do with that newun­ex­pected baby.”

Mary­land is con­sid­er­ing hold­ing town hall-type gath­er­ings for boost­ers in an at­tempt to as­suage fans, ac­cord­ing to Joe Rock­hill, a 1964 Mary­land grad­u­ate and Ter­rapin Club mem­ber. An­der­son said he knows he has to win back some fans, but he is un­de­terred by the im­me­di­ate back­lash.

“If I took this job and had a prob­lem with peo­ple lik­ing me or not lik­ingme, I will fail,” An­der­son said, “I be­lieve I made the right de­ci­sion and I can go home and look in the mir­ror and feel good about that.”

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