Randy Edsall. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Since they ended their respective games on Saturday Randy Edsall, Paul Pasqualoni and the UConn football team have faced a deluge of questions about what Saturday's matchup between UConn and Maryland means. What will it be like for Edsall to take on his former players? Will Pasqualoni use Edsall's departure to motivate his team? Do UConn's upperclassmen feel any lingering resentment after being spurned by their former coach? So far the answers to those questions have been entirely predictable, and I suspect they'll stay that way for the rest of the week. This is just another game they'll say -- one like any other. We can't focus on who's on the other side of the field, we just have to do our jobs on it. That's probably the "right" thing to say to the media, but it couldn't be more wrong, because, to paraphrase a certain movie about being screwed over, the Huskies deserve their revenge, and Randy Edsall deserves to be blown out.
I have not always felt negatively toward Edsall, in fact for a long time I was a huge fan of his. He built UConn's program up from nothing. I'm sure you'll hear more than once on Saturday that when Edsall came to UConn his office was in a trailer and yet he built a team that went to the BCS. He also graduated his players, and perhaps most importantly of all, handled the tragedy of Jasper Howard's death as well as any coach in the country possibly could have. For those things, and for the years of happy memories he gave me as UConn's football coach, I am grateful. But the manner in which Edsall left UConn, and his behavior since have given the lie to the image Edsall tried to construct for himself, and for that I hope UConn beats his Maryland Terrapins into the ground on Saturday.Edsall was a guy who told you that it was always about the team. Nothing in his world could possibly rise above the name on the front of the jersey, which is why he took his player's names off of them, even at a school that invented the concept of putting a player's name on his jersey. Of course, Edsall's lie is that it really doesn't matter if a player's name is on the back of the jersey. Does anyone out there think a player has ever played worse because his parents could easily identify him from the stands? Of course not, but by saying that the name on the front was what mattered Edsall put the attention where he really wanted it: on himself. When the team is a fungible group then its leader can be the star, and if the team falls apart, well then I'm sure it just didn't execute the coach's plan properly.
This all became immensely clear in the hours following UConn's Fiesta Bowl loss on New Years Day 2011. After the game Edsall famously forced star running back Jordan Todman to announce to his teammates that he planned to enter the NFL draft. Then, just hours later, Edsall's players got on a plane back to Hartford while he got on a different one. By the time his team landed they were getting text message reports that Edsall would now be the head coach at Maryland. Edsall said today that he wished things could have gone differently when he left, and that it was "circumstances" that prevented him telling his team he was leaving. You can believe that if you want, but I'll choose to call it what it is: bullshit. Edsall knew he was gone before that game and before he left his players -- there is no way he couldn't have, and no excuse for the way he treated them. Am I mad Edsall left? No, I understand why he did. College football is a business and he made a business decision. But making a college junior stand up and do something you weren't man enough to do yourself is simply pathetic.
When he went to Maryland Edsall called it his dream job. This was also bullshit. Anyone with eyes knows that Edsall --a Pennsylvania boy -- always had his eye on Joe Paterno's seat in Happy Valley. There are two ironies about that. The first is that if Edsall had been patient, if he had waited one more year to make a jump (and remember he turned down other coaching opportunities before) he would have been a favorite to be Penn State's head coach. The second is that Edsall at uconn tried to imitate how Paterno ran Penn State, preaching program above all else. They told their players the individual should be subsumed into the collective effort, but when the chips were down and tough decisions needed to be made -- and obviously there's a huge difference in scale between the decisions Joe Pa and Edsall needed to make -- both men failed to practice what they preached because the individual they couldn't control was themselves and their pride and vanity got the better of them.
In a way everyone talking to the media this week is right -- this is just another game. A win over Maryland does not count anymore than a win over UMass in the standings. But that's an incomplete picture, because this counts more in the heart. It means more for the players who Edsall sent home alone and clueless and it means more for the fans who were on the receiving end of Edsall's "dream job" back-handed slap. Edsall's ego has been brought down over a tumultuous 18 months in College Park -- hell, he even put the names back on the uniforms this year -- but a UConn win, especially a big one, will bring it even lower. And UConn's players, once Edsall's players, that will have to feel good. Once upon a time Edsall constructed a strict regime to tell them who and how they should be, only to leave without holding himself to those same exacting standards. A win on Saturday will let them show that it wasn't Edsall -- or Edsall's rules -- that made them, but rather that they made themselves.