There’s quite a drama playing out in Maryland’s athletic department, where it’s the best of times and worst of times in the Terrapins’ “Tale of Two Programs.”
Both have head coaches in their second season. Both coaches enjoyed success before relocating to College Park. Both men registered disappointing results in their initial campaign.
But Mark Turgeon has his men’s basketball team pointed in the opposite direction of Randy Edsall’s football team. The latest indication came Tuesday, when highly coveted Xavier transfer Dezmine Wells announced that he chose Maryland over Kentucky, among others.
(If Turgeon is beating John Calipari on players, it might not be long before on-court victories follow. Perhaps not as soon as Nov. 9, when the Terps and Wildcats play in the first college game at the Brooklyn Nets’ Barclays Center. But soon enough.).
Wells is the third transfer this offseason, including sweet-shooting forward Evan Smotrycz from Michigan. Next season will feature a well-regarded recruiting class, including 6-foot-9 center Shaquille Cleare. It’s safe to say that the Terps’ prospects are looking up after a 17-15 mark in Turgeon’s first go-round.
Meanwhile, over at the Gossett Football House, Edsall’s team must be licking its wounded psyche after escaping with a 7-6 squeaker against William & Mary. The difference between Edsall’s two season openers is as stark as the uniforms Maryland unveiled in last year’s Labor Day victory, 32-24 against Miami.
The Terps’ starting quarterback that night, coming off an ACC Rookie of the Year season, now calls signals for Wisconsin. Offensive tackles R.J. Dill (Rutgers) and Max Garcia (Florida) are among a host of others who also transferred out. Maryland didn’t beat another FBS opponent afterward and captured just one more victory (against Towson) to finish 2-10.
When starting quarterback C.J. Brown tore an ACL last month, less than three weeks before the season opener, the Terps’ not-so-great 2012 outlook grew even drearier. Sadly, that reflects the general mood under Edsall, minus a few bright spots thanks to new offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.
Locksley’s prowess at luring recruits is well known and his current handiwork is evident. He helped Maryland snag consensus top-10 national prospect Stefon Diggs, as well as New Mexico transfer Zach Dancel. But barring a dramatic transformation of the tone and tenor that Edsall conveys, it’s difficult to be excited about the football team’s immediate future.
As great as Locksley might be at stocking cupboards, he can’t cook the meal or overcome the chef’s limitations. That much was proved when he worked for Ron Zook at Florida and then Illinois.
Questions about Edsall’s suitability for the Terps’ job surfaced the day he was announced and only have grown louder. He would do well to double his win total from a year ago, which certainly won’t help Maryland’s dwindling attendance figures. Unless he justifies the faith exhibited by his recruits, this program is headed the wrong way.
There’s a completely different air around the men’s basketball offices at Comcast Center. Not only does Turgeon employ masterful recruiters (assistant Bino Ranson was on the Xavier staff that landed Wells originally), he’s eager to battle for blue-chip prospects. He also knows how to craft a finished product, having led his team to the NCAA tournament in five of six seasons before coming to Maryland.
Wells, who’s 6-5 and a chiseled 220 pounds, started 32 games as a freshman for Xavier’s Sweet 16 team last season. His size, along with the 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds he averaged, would make him a prized acquisition for any Top 25 team.
Beating out Kentucky for his services is a huge accomplishment for Maryland, and it will speak volumes to big-time recruits across the country.
Wells won’t play this season unless the NCAA grants a waiver, but he impacted the program already simply by choosing it. The circumstances are lousy — he was expelled for an alleged sexual assault although a grand jury declined to press charges and the prosecutor lambasted Xavier’s action — but the end result is a boon for Maryland.
Having started their tenures the same year, Turgeon and Edsall always will be linked. That’s not totally fair, just like some circumstances that might beyond either coach’s control. And, yes, it’s still too early to know the outcome for sure.
But so far, their story resembles an odd remake of “Beauty and the Beast.”