Mary­land is grat­ing, not great

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - Dan Steinberg

colum­bus, ohio — TheMary­land football team turned in its best per­for­mance of the sea­son Satur­day af­ter­noon. The Terps also lost by 21 points.

If this is great, what ex­actly does good look like?

Mary­land has been pushed around by Bowl­ing Green at home and hum­bled byWest Vir­ginia andMichi­gan this fall. Its coach was pub­licly un­der­cut by media leaks about his im­mi­nent fir­ing 48 hours be­fore a game against the top-ranked de­fend­ing cham­pion. Its home sta­dium has of­fered all the en­thu­si­asm of a Scot­tWalker rally, its prized quar­ter­back re­cruit is giv­ing tele­vi­sion in­ter­views about what he will do if the coach is fired and that coach — the be­lea­guered Randy Ed­sall — has re­sorted to quot­ing in­spi­ra­tional rap lyrics on Twit­ter.

What has gone right this sea­son? Well, Mary­land man­aged to re­main tied withNo. 1 Ohio State un­til mid­way through the third quar­ter Satur­day, when a sur­pris­ingly in­ter­est­ing game trans­formed into a 49-28 blowout. Also, no lineback­ers have lined up at quar­ter­back.

Is this what Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Kevin An­der­son had in mind when he dis­patched Ralph Fried­gen more than four years ago, a “strate­gic busi­ness de­ci­sion” made with the goal of mov­ingMary­land’s pro­gram “from good to great?” Be­cause if this is how a great pro­gram op­er­ates, the good ones must fea­ture open re­bel­lion,

mis­matched uni­forms and live­stock roam­ing the prac­tice fields.

Over their past three losses, the Terps have been outscored by 88 points, the team’s worst stretch in one sea­son since 1993. (Fried­gen’s worst three-game los­ing streak? Howabout a 38point dif­fer­en­tial.) Ed­sall is 10-24 in con­fer­ence games atMary­land; he could sweep the rest of this year’s meat grinder of a sched­ule, go un­de­feated in the Big Ten next sea­son and still trail Fried­gen’s con­fer­ence mark. He’s 0-12 against ranked teams, with the last 10 losses all com­ing by dou­ble dig­its. It’s def­i­nitely not great, and it doesn’t much re­sem­ble good.

This isn’t arm­chairAD-ing, nor is it re­vi­sion­ist history. Ed­sall was a tough sell from the mo­ment An­der­son chose him as his first ma­jor hire in 2011, mess­ily fir­ing Fried­gen just weeks af­ter guar­an­tee­ing his re­turn. The hir­ing was greeted with im­me­di­ate howls, to the point that An­der­son oc­ca­sion­ally sounded like Ed­sall’s de­fense at­tor­ney dur­ing the in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence.

“I be­lieve we’ve hired one of the best football coaches in this coun­try,” An­der­son said then, be­fore adding, “there’s a lot of peo­ple that don’t agree with that.”

“Randy Ed­sall: Alot of peo­ple don’t like this hire.” That’s some way to kick off a ca­reer.

Some fans never for­gave Ed­sall for re­plac­ing Fried­gen, for his brusque man­ner and early pub­li­cre­la­tions mis­cues. But few­would say he de­serves an end­ing like this, if this is the end. He has spent a week an­swer­ing ques­tions about his job se­cu­rity, has seen re­ports on In­ter­net sites and on “Sport­sCen­ter” that he’s on the verge of los­ing his job and was un­able to say Satur­day whether he would be coach­ing the Terps af­ter their bye week.

“Those are things I don’t con­trol,” Ed­sall said through a strained smile. “I don’t make those de­ci­sions. Some­body else makes those de­ci­sions. And as long as I’mthe coach, all’s I’m go­ing to do is just domy job, do it the way I’ve been do­ing it, do what I’ve been asked to do.”

Even if play­ers have tuned out Ed­sall, as some re­ports have in­di­cated, they clearly haven’t quit on each other. Ade­fense that has given up doesn’t keep a lo­co­mo­tive like Ohio State’s Ezekiel El­liott— who rushed for 274 yards a week ago— to 106 yards. Aquar­ter­back who has quit doesn’t chug through aNo. 1 team’s de­fense the way Perry Hills did; his 170 rush­ing yards were the most ever for a Mary land quar­ter­back.

But the team’s best and gut­si­est ef­fort, de­liv­ered amid im­pos­si­bleto-avoid dis­trac­tions, still re­sulted in a fourth-quar­ter rout, and that’s one of Ed­sall’s prob­lems. Many Mary­land fans ac­tu­ally are rea­son­able about the sta­tus of this pro­gram; they have men­tioned words like “com­pet­i­tive” and “re­spectable” in re­cent con­ver­sa­tions.

If Ed­sall has achieved im­proved re­sults in the class­room, up­graded fa­cil­i­ties and landed a promis­ing re­cruit­ing class— as his dwin­dling de­fend­ers ar­gue— those pluses are over­whelmed by lop­sided scoreboards. The Big Ten Net­work’ s Matt Mill en used words like “pa­thetic” and “em­bar­rass­ing” to de­scribe Mary­land’s per­for­mance against Michigan last week, and Satur­day’s promis­ing start was un­done by a 28-0 avalanche to end the game.

“It’s the mar­gin of de­feat that is just hu­mil­i­at­ing,” Cindy Sk­iles, a five-fig­ure an­nual donor, toldme be­fore the Ohio State loss. “We’re just get­ting rolled over, and that’s not much fun.”

In­sid­ers de­scribe Ed­sall’s re­la­tion­ship with An­der­son as strained at times, es­pe­cially re­cently. Fans and donors seem to have co­a­lesced into two groups: the ap­a­thetic and the openly hos­tile. Ed­sall never had­many al­lies in the lo­cal media, and he demon­strated why Satur­day, leav­ing the podium in anger af­ter a ques­tion about pregame hand­shakes. When­evenDwayne Hask­ins— that prized quar­ter­back re­cruit— is tweet­ing about po­ten­tial Ed­sall re­place­ments, it’s not hard to imag­ine the end.

Still, these awk­ward past few days felt undig­ni­fied, at best. What would have hap­pened ifMary­land beat the Buck­eyes? Howdo you stuff that tooth­paste back into its tube? Is the ex­tra time to find a suc­ces­sor worth the per­cep­tion that this pro­gram will pub­licly dan­gle its leader over a plank?

The per­son left to an­swer those ques­tions will be An­der­son. The scru­tiny on theAD­would be with­er­ing in­many years, but with a top-five bas­ket­ball pro­gram con­ve­niently set to cer­e­mo­ni­ally be­gin prac­tice next week­end, the bas­ket­ball-mad school might be will­ing to ig­nore its cur­rent football mess. And An­der­son would be fill­ing a job that­may be more de­sir­able to­day than it was four years ago: bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties, a bet­ter con­fer­ence and a less im­pos­ing act to fol­low.

Still, the pres­sure to find a win­ner hasn’t gone away. An­der­son wanted football great­ness. His last hire hasn’t de­liv­ered. His next hire bet­ter.

JOSEPH MAIORANA/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Mary­land quar­ter­back Per­ryHills is pres­sured by Ohio State line­backer Dar­ron Lee in the Ter­rap­ins’ third straight blowout loss.

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