Randy Edsall and Meaningless Contract Extensions

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Randy Edsall is 20-30 through his first four seasons as Maryland Terrapins head coach, and has yet to finish above .500 in conference play — though last year’s 4-4 debut in the Big Ten was an improvement on three sub-.500 finishes in the ACC.

Just a year ago, Randy Edsall’s was a common name in hot seat discussions, which makes sense given predecessor Ralph Friedgen won eight and nine games in two of the last three seasons before his firing. Edsall has yet to win more than seven in any campaign and the pinnacle of his tenure to date is beating a tissue-thin Penn State team. More on that in a moment.

Underwhelming as his record may be, Maryland extended Edsall’s contract through 2019 on Tuesday in a move that is less symbolic of the Terps performance, and more reflective of the empty gesture that is extending a coaching contract.

Consider the details, as reported by the Washington Post:

The three-year extension will be worth $7.5 million beginning in January 2017, though only $500,000 of that is guaranteed. That means the school would owe Edsall only $500,000 should his contract be terminated between January 2017 and January 2018, and nothing after that.

Athletic director Kevin Anderson was heavy on the AD buzzwords, touting the extension as a sign of the program “moving in the right direction.” Perhaps Edsall deserves credit for not winning 10-plus games in each of his first three seasons, as Friedgen had.

Of course, Anderson didn’t hire Friedgen, but he did fire him. Edsall was Anderson’s hire. A public display of long-term of support for the coach, hollow as it may be, doubles as a positive self-evaluation.

Cynicism notwithstanding, Randy Edsall is not a bad coach. He built Connecticut from the ground-up, turning the former Div. I-AA program into a Big East champion and Fiesta Bowl participant in his final season there. He’s also improved graduation rates and academic performance, two vexing issues under Friedgen.

Maryland has also shown glimmers of hope on the field in his tenure, while some of the Terps’ failure is out of his control. The injury bug bit Maryland especially hard in recent seasons, forcing Edsall to play a linebacker at quarterback at one point and enduring without do-everything wide receiver Stefon Diggs at another juncture.

Maryland’s glimmer of hope includes the aforementioned win over Penn State, and more specifically defeating head coach James Franklin. Franklin, the former Maryland offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting, has a sordid past with Anderson.

Let’s play What If Wednesday for a moment and ponder: If Maryland finishes with the same 7-6 record, but beats either fellow Big Ten newcomer Rutgers or West Virginia instead of Penn State, is Randy Edsall getting a contract extension?

There’s no answering this hypothetical without pure conjecture, but my skepticism can’t help but ask it.

Ultimately, though, a contract extension Maryland can rather easily escape is indicative less of Terrapin leadership than it is the broader meaning of such gestures around college football. A contract extension presents a facade of stability to recruits and current players, telling them the coaching staff that brought them to a particular is there for the long haul. A James Franklin going head-to-head with a Randy Edsall for the same recruits can’t use uncertainty as a ploy.

Never mind Anderson told Friedgen in Nov. 2010, one month before the coach was fired, that he would be back in 2011 to finish his contract. Disregard Notre Dame opting to pay Charlie Weis longer not to coach the Fighting Irish than it paid him to do so.

An extension is an expression of support and investment in a program and its coaches. Seriously. Honestly. Scout’s honor!