Every coach deserves a second chance, and this season was Randy Edsall's. He did not, to put it mildly, score a touchdown in his first year at Maryland. Indeed, he aggravated many inside and especially outside the football building with a swagger and certitude that simply didn't jibe with his 74-70 record at Connecticut. And that record only became worse when the Terps went 2-10 and quarterback Danny O'Brien bailed, convinced he didn't fit into Edsall's plans.
So Edsall returned this season determined to undo the damage — before it was too late. He put the nameplates back on the jerseys (after stripping his players of their identities when he first came in). He canned his offensive coordinator, brought popular Mike Locksley back to College Park and really did seem to be trying to be less of a tyrant. His second recruiting class, meanwhile, was thought to be much stronger than the first, and the program appeared to be stabilizing after months of upheaval.
And now this. Two weeks into preseason workouts, C.J. Brown, his starting QB — heck, his only credible QB — blows out his knee in a noncontact drill. Even Edsall, the quintessential half-full guy, couldn't put a happy face on this one. "Just devastating," he said Wednesday afternoon during a teleconference.
Can't argue with him there. O'Brien's transfer (to Wisconsin, which took in Russell Wilson last year) left Maryland without an experienced backup. As a result, Edsall will have to fast-track true freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe — which, with all due respect, is one step above taking out a want ad for a quarterback in the Diamondback. The whole thing couldn't be more horribly timed. I mean, if it had happened in the spring, Randy could have at least made a play for a Penn State refugee. He's stuck now, stuck between a rock and, quite possibly, another soul-crushing season.
No one would argue that Brown's injury doesn't fall under the category of Bad Luck. But it's bad luck made worse by the alienation of O'Brien. Danny might not have been a perfect fit for Edsall's scheme, which asks the quarterback to run as well as pass, but he was good enough to be voted ACC rookie of the year and lead the Terps to a 9-4 record in Ralph Friedgen's final season. A more flexible coach might have modified his system to play to Danny's strengths (e.g. throwing the ball). But "flexible" and "Edsall" aren't exactly synonyms.
It also would have made sense to keep O'Brien in the program because running quarterbacks have a habit of getting hurt. In fact, Brown was knocked out of the Florida State game last year when he was shaken up on a third-down carry, and he missed all but a few plays of the 2010 season because of a broken collarbone. But Edsall gave Danny more reasons to go than to stay, and so the Terps were left vulnerable — dangerously vulnerable — at the most important position on the field.
Some will say it's karma, and perhaps it is to a degree. Edsall might not have wanted O'Brien to be his quarterback and likely wouldn't have recruited him, but he still needed him until, that is, he built more depth at QB, brought in more of His Kind of Guy. Why he didn't realize this — or do a better job of convincing Danny there was still a place for him at Maryland — might be his greatest failure in this situation. (Of course, at that stage, he was still in his Hurricane Randy mode, and plenty of players were running for cover.)
You look at the Terps' schedule now, and you say: Who exactly are they a lock to beat — with a freshman quarterback calling the signals? Is William & Mary, their opening opponent, even a given at this point? What about their ACC brethren? They don't play Duke, which finished last in the Coastal Division last season. Is it possible they don't win once all year?
As I said at the top, this season was supposed to be Randy Edsall's Second Chance. But with C.J. Brown going down, it might be his Second Foot in the Grave.
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