In case you somehow missed the news, Maryland is now looking for a new coach, after the Fightin' Edsalls lost at Ohio State over the weekend. Maryland seems to want to hire an exciting, offensive minded coach, and you'll probably hear a lot of people talking up this job over the next few months. After all, Maryland is in a fertile recruiting territory, they've got fancy uniforms, they have a rich booster ... what's not to like?
Well, lots of things, in my opinion. Just how good a job, right now, is the Maryland job? Let's try to be objective here for a second, and consider the true pros and cons.
You are close to recruits
This is typically the first thing people bring up if they want to sell the Maryland job as being a great one, and on this point, they're right. Maryland's football offices are only a healthy jog away from one of the very best high school football programs in the country (DeMatha Catholic), and there are plenty of other quality players in the DMV for the Terps to find. Three of the best players in Maryland's 2016 class, including consensus four star WR Tino Ellis, come from DeMatha.
247Sports has Maryland producing 12 four star or better prospects in 2016, and there might be more than 30 who are Big Ten caliber players. Another half dozen, or more, will come out of DC proper every cycle. Add in the players from the DC suburbs in Northern Virginia, and maybe a Delaware or West Virginia kid or two, and suddenly, you have a very solid local base of talent to mine from, to say nothing about what you could supplement with from Florida, Pennsylvania, or elsewhere.
The trouble, of course, is that Maryland isn't the only team mining those areas. Penn State is very active in the DMV region, typically beating Maryland for kids they both want, to say nothing of Ohio State, Michigan, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. ACC schools like Miami (FL) and North Carolina have grabbed kids, and for the really elite prospects, SEC programs are also a factor.
Keeping enough of the best players local is a difficult challenge, for reasons we'll get to in a second, but they do exist, and there is enough talent here to be potentially be a factor for a successful college football program. That's more than a lot of Big Ten programs can say.
The best talent on this roster is mostly young
Maryland isn't an especially talented team at the moment (the 247Sports Team Talent Composite has them eighth in the Big Ten), but the cupboard isn't entirely bare. Of the 10 players with the highest 247Sports rating, only one, defensive back A.J. Hendy, is a senior. Maryland's two best defensive players, defensive back Will Likely and defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue are both juniors who could leave early for the NFL, but there are still some pieces here for the right coach, especially if Maryland is able to keep their 2016 recruiting class together.
Maryland's roster has a five-star redshirt freshman (Damian Prince) on their offensive line, to go with redshirt freshman Derwin Gray and true freshman Quarvez Boulware, who are four stars. Freshman D.J. Moore already looks like a possible playmaker at wideout, as is Taivon Jacobs, who is just a sophomore. There are pieces for a productive offense.
A new coach is going to need to replace a lot of bodies in the secondary, and there also isn't a quarterback on this roster who really inspires confidence, so if Maryland's next coach can't keep super blue chipper Dwayne Haskins in the fold, things may get worse before they get better in College Park. This isn't a Michigan or a Florida situation, but this team also isn't totally bereft of players.
So those are some advantages. But do they outweigh some of the other factors a would-be coach should consider?
This isn't a big money job right now
Yes, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is a former Maryland football player. And yes, he's given quite a bit of money to the program already. But one rich booster does not a rich program make. After all, Maryland doesn't have their full Big Ten television revenue share yet, and their athletic department had a $3.5 million operating loss in 2014. Eventually, Maryland will dig out of the precarious financial situation they found themselves in before they joined the conference, but the days of writing blank checks aren't here yet.
That showed in their commitment to coaching salaries. Edsall made $2.1 million in 2015, which is near the bottom of the Big Ten, and paid out $2.5 million for assistants (seventh among the 12 staffs that have made that data publicly available). Without some major donor contributions, it seems a little unlikely that Maryland is going to really be able to back up the proverbial money truck, unless this donor base really goes for broke. That financial gap is another reminder of how far Maryland is behind some of the heavyweights in this conference.
You share a division with four heavyweights
Maryland has to play Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State *every* season. Three of those teams recruit Maryland's recruiting turf. All of them have excellent coaches, and if the next Maryland coach gets say, a five-year deal, it's a pretty good bet that at least three of them will stick around during the bulk of that contract. All four programs have substantially better players, better staffs, better financial situations, and barring weird institutional issues or injury meltdowns, it's a fair bet all four will be favored over Maryland in most seasons.
And that's just in their division. Maryland plays at Nebraska in 2016, at Wisconsin (and Texas) in 2017, and at Iowa in 2018. Add in the fact that Rutgers is likely to replace their coach soon, and it will be hard to go much above .500 in Big Ten play in the immediate future. It will be tough to make a ton of headway on the recruiting trail against those teams if they pound you during the season.
You're behind in the facilities race
This won't be the case forever, but it is the case now. Maryland is currently the only school in the Big Ten without an indoor football facility. They're scheduled to build a very fancy one that is scheduled to be completed in 2018, but that isn't now.
Maryland's football stadium isn't going to really impress any recruit who is also being recruited by a Big Ten heavyweight. Byrd Stadium is one of the smaller ones in the conference, and can't really sell a stories history or especially exciting environment. It's a little nicer than say, Ross-Ade, but again, if Maryland is trying to compete against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, etc, there is little inside Byrd, or even on campus, that would flip a kid's mind.
This is a pro sports area
Maryland is in a weird spot where their biggest fans don't really live near the school. While there are lots of Terrapin supporters in Baltimore, or elsewhere in the state outside of the I-95 Corridor, Washington D.C. is a city of transplants. Given the success of other programs, and the huge alumni bases for Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State in the Capitol City, it's hard to say Maryland is really the DMV's team (just like Northwestern isn't actually Chicago's Big Ten team). Even in Prince George County (where, in full disclosure, I live), Terrapin football is probably a distant forth on the priority list, behind Washington's NFL team, the Nationals, and the Wizards. Plus, this is a basketball first school.
College Park isn't an iconic college town like Madison or Ann Arbor. It's a kind of forgotten suburb of DC, often drowned out in the professional sports, and politics, of the big city. If you want the fans (and the city) to come and build a really raucous home field advantage, you're going to have to really sell the program.
Academics are also a factor
There are some schools where a coach might get a little more leeway for recruiting, as far as academics are concerned, but it doesn't appear Maryland is one of those places. I'm not going to harp on the ACTs of average freshman or whatever, because that doesn't matter, but what does matter is that Maryland has admission requirements for athletes that go above what the NCAA clearinghouse requires. That makes it harder to load up on JUCOs (something not many Big Ten teams can do), and it means that the coaching staff needs to have a great relationship with admissions, lest they run into communications problems like at say, Wisconsin. Having higher standards isn't a bad thing (or necessarily a good thing, to be honest), but it should be something a coach should consider, especially in an environment where recruiting success is so critical.
* * *
Is this a bad job? I don't think so, but it's certainly not an open and shut "great job" just because of one rich booster and a few good recruits living nearby. The divisional coaching situation is brutal, and Maryland still has a long way to go to catch up with their more established Big Ten brethren. Once Maryland's new facilities are built, the Big Ten signs their next TV deal and the Terps are getting their full revenue share, this will be a much more established and attractive gig.
The question is, will it be attractive for who Maryland hires this year, or for the coach they try to hire five years from now?