My media colleagues seem to be split in their opinions of Maryland football coach Randy Edsall. One camp thinks Edsall is a self-serving, hypocritical turd. The other camp thinks he is a shameless, ruthless disgrace to his profession.
I will not choose a side. In fact, I'm not convinced Edsall is the chief villain in the story I'm about to tell. In major-college athletics these days, you have to look beyond the coach and to the school. Then you have to look beyond the school and to the system.
This is about a quarterback, Danny O'Brien ... no, wait. That's not right. O'Brien, we have been told many times, is a student-athlete. He attended the University of Maryland, where he played quarterback for the football team and graduated in three years.
O'Brien wanted to transfer. College students around the country do that every day. But in the NCAA's world, Maryland got to decide if O'Brien was allowed to go -- and just as importantly, where he would be allowed to go. O'Brien couldn't accept another football scholarship unless Maryland granted him his release. The school granted his release Feb. 13, but with significant and unfair restrictions.
O'Brien wants to go to Vanderbilt, to play for former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin. Maryland won't let him, because of jealousies, insecurities and indisputable hypocrisy. This story encapsulates so much of what is wrong with college sports in 2012. Administrators and coaches look out for themselves, instead of taking care of students and/or athletes.
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More than three years ago, O'Brien accepted a football scholarship from Maryland. His second choice was Duke. It is customary, in this country, to forget that Duke football exists, even if you happen to be a Duke undergrad. But for the purposes of this story, you should remember that little nugget. O'Brien considered Duke largely because academics were very important to him.
O'Brien chose Maryland largely because he liked offensive coordinator Franklin, who recruited him. Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow had announced, just four months earlier, that Franklin was the Terrapins' "coach in waiting," and would replace head coach Ralph Friedgen when he retired.
Maryland made a big deal about Franklin being the coach in waiting for a reason: to impress recruits. The school told young men like O'Brien: Come here, and if you aren't playing for Friedgen, you will be playing for Franklin.
Then a few things happened.
1. In August 2010, Wallace Loh became Maryland's new president.
2. In September 2010, Kevin Anderson became Maryland's new athletic director. In a statement, Loh said: "I am convinced that [Anderson's] leadership will raise Maryland Athletics to even greater heights. We are delighted to welcome Kevin into the Terrapin family."
3. Anderson made it clear that Franklin may have been Maryland's coach in waiting, but he was not Anderson's coach in waiting. In December, Franklin left to take the head-coaching job at Vanderbilt.
4. In December 2010, Anderson forced out Friedgen and hired Edsall to replace him.
This all happened in a span of five months. None of it had anything to do with O'Brien. In fact, O'Brien was doing exactly what Maryland hoped: That year, while higher-ups were angling for political real estate, O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year.
What happened next?
Franklin arrived at Vanderbilt, energized all sorts of people, and took the Commodores from 2-10 to a bowl game.
Edsall arrived at Maryland, alienated all sorts of people, and took the Terps from 9-4 to 2-10.
Also: Edsall benched O'Brien.
O'Brien decided he wanted to leave for another school. Maryland decided it didn't want O'Brien leaving for another ACC school and limited his release accordingly. That eliminated Duke, his old second choice.
Maryland also decided O'Brien can't transfer to any team that is scheduled to play Maryland.
And Maryland decided O'Brien can't play for Vanderbilt. Why not Vanderbilt? Franklin is there.
Edsall's job security depends on his own performance. But if Franklin somehow wins big at Vanderbilt, it would make Maryland's athletic director and president look awful. In the classic style of modern-day university administrators, Loh and Anderson are letting Edsall take all the bullets. But the fact is, the university president and athletic director can step in at any time and grant O'Brien his unlimited release. It is the right thing to do. And they haven't done it.
Now, this is where it gets really rich:
Maryland's new offensive coordinator is Mike Locksley. He was the head coach at New Mexico before getting fired last fall.
Last month, a New Mexico player named Zach Dancel decided to transfer.
Guess where he is going.
To play for his old coach.
"Of course there are a couple guys at New Mexico who are interested, who have their release," Dancel told The Washington Post last month. "I'm sure they're considering it. A lot of guys are good players and they're going to have other options. ... I've been in contact with a couple of them about Maryland. Locks is going to get players in there and Maryland is going to be up and coming and could potentially be a good team in the next year or two."
Dancel was a starter at New Mexico. And he wasn't kidding when he said other players may join him. The Albuquerque Journal reported that New Mexico running back Crusoe Gongbay, who led the team in rushing last season as a true freshman, has left the program. Gongbay is a Maryland native, and it would surprise nobody if he joined his old coach at Maryland.
Evidently, Maryland thinks it's perfectly fine for players to transfer into its program to play for a former coach, but terribly wrong for players to transfer out of its program to play for a former coach. There is no principle here. Just "educators" covering their butts.
And the NCAA says: Hey, that's Maryland's call. How ridiculous is that? The NCAA makes such a big deal about students accepting scholarships from a university, not a coach. Well, O'Brien wants to choose another university. Maryland won't let him, because of the coach.
Now all the innocents in this story are stuck. Franklin can't say anything publicly about O'Brien; if he does, he will be accused of tampering. (His only public comments so far have been that he doesn't tamper, but he does talk to former players, because -- gasp! -- he likes to maintain a relationship with them.)
O'Brien could get a lawyer or complain to the NCAA, but that would mean getting a lawyer or complaining to the NCAA. Most of us would rather sign up for experimental groin surgery than do either of those things.
O'Brien can also try to publicly shame Maryland into releasing him unconditionally. But a college student should not have to do that. A major university should do what is right, instead of what's convenient. The University of Maryland should be better than the people who have been hired to run it.