Five years ago, Maryland opened its season by beating a short-handed Miami team in Randy Edsall’s Terrapins debut on the strength of 348 passing yards from quarterback Danny O’Brien.
Edsall’s quarterbacks haven’t come close to producing a similar statistical performance since then, and his program probably hasn’t had a win as uplifting as his first. Maryland is 22-34 and has never won a bowl game in its time under Edsall’s direction, and it never will. The Terps cut ties with their head coach Sunday afternoon after falling to 2-4 with a loss to No. 1 Ohio State, finishing a first half of the season in which the program seemed hopelessly heading in the wrong direction.
Here lies the Randy Edsall era at Maryland (Jan. 2, 2011 - Oct. 10, 2015). So, what lies ahead?
By making a decision in October, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson (who fired Ralph Friedgen and replaced him with Edsall only four months after getting to College Park) gives himself a significant head start on making a crossroads decision for his department. Are the Terps ready to compete as a true member of the Big Ten or are they here to collect a paycheck?
"This was a difficult decision," Anderson said in a statement Sunday afternoon. "But ultimately this was the best course of action for our football program moving forward."
There’s an argument to be made for Maryland as an attractive landing spot for an ambitious head coach. The D.C. metro area is home to a decent amount of football talent, and there’s a growing trend among the area’s top preps to stick at home. Dwayne Haskins Jr., ESPN’s No. 2-ranked quarterback prospect and No. 23 overall prospect this year, committed to the Terps in May. He tweeted his allegiance earlier this week when word of Edsall’s impending demise started to spread, saying he was “committed to the state. They need us.”
There’s also the small pack of dedicated boosters at Maryland, led by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, who could put together an attractive package for a big-name coach. The former Maryland walk-on is worth $4.1 billion, according to Forbes, and he hasn’t been shy about sharing ideas, apparel and money to better his former team.
And lastly, while Edsall hasn’t had the success expected of him on the field, he’s made progress in establishing parts of a strong foundation off it.
There’s also an argument to be made for Maryland as a program that smacked its head into the glass ceiling under Friedgen and won’t go much higher. Maryland is a basketball school. The disparity between the campus facilities of football and basketball make that clear.
College Park will never be Happy Valley or Ann Arbor or Columbus. And now, as a member of the Big Ten East, it has to compete annually with all of those places. Throw in the rock-solid program at Michigan State and the division is crowded enough with deep football roots to prevent any new plants from flourishing.
Right now, the division is home to three of the 10 highest-paid coaches in college football. That kind of competition could scare away some coaches and be incredibly attractive to others. Maryland will have to up its ante to attract one of the latter personalities. Edsall, who had his contract extended this past June, ranked 52nd in salary among FBS coaches, according to USA Today, ahead of only Indiana and Rutgers in the Big Ten.
When the conference invited Maryland to join the Big Ten in 2012, the bigger paycheck looked like a life preserver tossed to an athletic department trying to work its way out of a sea of debt. Months earlier it had to cut seven varsity sports to make ends meet.
The basketball program, the top-ranked team in the nation heading into this season, was a great addition for the league. But the Big Ten is a football-first conference. It would be hard to consider Maryland a strong addition if it isn't going to make an earnest effort to win on Saturdays in the fall.
Here’s Anderson’s chance to show the Terps are jumping into their new home with both feet. A smart hire could help boost the East Division’s reputation as the toughest in college football. A status quo hire gives Maryland little chance of competing for much more than trips to mediocre bowl games.
So what lies ahead for the Terps?