This past Sunday, Maryland football coach Randy Edsall was fired in the midst of his fifth season with the Terrapins.
Before leaving to take his dream job at Maryland, Edsall served as the University of Connecticut football’s head coach for 12 years. In that span, Edsall helped transition the program to Division I football and helped establish the Huskies as a program on the rise.
During Edsall’s tenure as coach, the Huskies appeared in five bowl games; three of which they won. They also won their fair share of games against established programs, defeating Notre Dame 33-30 in double-overtime in 2009 and taking down Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks 20-7 that same year to win the Papajohns.com Bowl. He also produced legitimate NFL talent, such as quarterback Dan Orlovsky, running back Donald Brown and linebacker Danny Lansanah.
In 2011, Edsall cemented his place in UConn history for all of the wrong reasons. After leading the Huskies to a share of Big East Championships, the Huskies earned their first-ever BCS berth by having wins over fellow co-champions Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
UConn traveled to Glendale, Arizona to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, where they lost 48-20. After the game, Edsall was not on the Huskies’ plane back to Storrs. Instead, he flew to Maryland to interview for the Terps’ head coaching job without telling any of his players.
Naturally, this didn’t go over well with anyone. Players were upset. Fans were outraged. Edsall might as well have been a four-letter word in Connecticut after news broke that he left. After building the program to its highest point, he was gone for good to take his dream job at Maryland.
We all know how it’s worked out for UConn since he’s left.
In the post-Edsall era, the Huskies have compiled an 18-36 record under three head coaches. However, the program has begun to trend upward in the last two years thanks to the hiring of Bob Diaco, who has done his best to dig UConn football out of the hole dug by Edsall’s successor.
At Maryland, Edsall wasn’t much better, leading the Terps to a 22-34 overall record that includes an 0-12 record against ranked teams. His final game as head coach was a 49-28 loss to No. 1 Ohio State at home. Even more intriguing, he was fired despite signing a three-year extension last year, which would have kept him at Maryland until 2019.
It would be wrong to blame UConn’s recent failures in football against Edsall and his departure, but people still do. People are still mad that he left UConn. When he came back to Rentschler Field as the Terps’ head coach in 2013, the student section let him know how they felt. It was not a warm welcome, that’s for sure.
UConn fans love to call Edsall all sorts of things, many of which can’t be printed in this column. I’ll admit, I was furious when Edsall left, and how he did it. Everyone was. I loved booing him in the student section at the Rent as a freshman. But the more I learned about Edsall, the more I realized something that’s so true and simple, yet almost always overlooked in sports.
What Edsall does a football coach doesn’t define who he is as a person.
Edsall has made his fair share of mistakes as a football coach. All of the coaches have. He’s admitted that he regrets leaving UConn the way he did. But those are decisions he made as a football coach in his best interest for his career. As a person, there haven’t been many better that have stepped foot on the UConn campus.
Last year marked the unveiling of the Jasper Howard memorial at Rentschler Field. In 2009, Howard was stabbed to death on campus during homecoming week. Just hours prior, Howard recorded a career-high 11 tackles and recovered a fumble to help the Huskies defeat Louisville 38-25.
Howard’s death had always resonated with Edsall. After his death, he helped rally the team and led them to success through adversity with that bowl win over South Carolina. Last year, Edsall helped make the memorial a reality by making the lead donation to the Jasper Howard Memorial fund. Simply put, the memorial wouldn’t have been possible without Edsall’s generous gift.
Last year also marked the death of UConn legend and current Director of UConn Football Alumni Andy Baylock’s wife Barbara. Baylock has been an intergral part of UConn athletics since 1964, serving as an assistant coach for the football team for 15 season and serving as UConn baseball’s head coach for 20 years.
When Edsall received word of Barbara’s death, he dropped everything and took the next flight to Connecticut to be there with Baylock and the rest of the UConn community.
These are not things that Edsall had to do. He did them because he cares about UConn and the people that he met during his 12 years here. He did these things because he’s a good person that cares about people. You can’t say that about everyone in college football.
It would be a lie to say that wins and losses don’t matter in college. If they didn’t, Edsall would still be on the sidelines this week. But what does matter is character, something that Edsall has shown a lot of.
Some people will always remember how Edsall left, but what they should remember instead is what he has done and continues to do for UConn. Sports are important, and a whole lot of fun, but sometimes they obscure more important things. Edsall is a great example of that. While he may be remembered as a villain for leaving UConn, he’s truly the farthest thing from it.