And the man who hired him said success on the field would not only help to sell seats, but would also bolster the university’s entire sports department.
“I need to go out and become visible,” new Coach Randy Edsall said at his introductory news conference Monday in College Park. “We need fans to understand it’s good to come here on a Saturday and tailgate and watch the games. I have to make this program more visible to people.”
Edsall, who built up University of Connecticut’s football program during his 12-year stint there, replaces Ralph Friedgen, who was fired last month because Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson said the program needed to improve. Because Friedgen had one year left on his contract, the school is obligated to pay him the $2 million left on the deal.
A spokesman for Maryland’s athletic department said Monday that the terms of Edsall’s contract would not be released. The school released Friedgen’s contract (and those of all the athletic coaches) in 2004 after being sued by The Baltimore Sun under the Maryland Public Information Act. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the contracts are public information.
In 2010, Friedgen was paid $2 million for his base salary and $737,232 as a bonus. Edsall was paid a total of $1.5 million last year at Connecticut.
At UConn, Edsall, 52, built the program from one that competed in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) to one that won this year’s Big East Conference championship and appeared in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (where it lost to Oklahoma).
At Maryland, he will have his work cut out for him.
The Terps drew 235,007 fans to six games at Byrd Stadium last season, a drop of 24 percent from the prior year and the lowest total since 2000, when they drew 204,775. The average home attendance this season at the stadium, which seats 54,000, was 39,168, and no games were sold out.
The stadium went through a $50.8 million renovation that was finished for the 2009 season, and included 64 luxury suites selling for up to $50,000 a year. Fewer than half of the suites were sold this season.
Edsall said he plans to boost Maryland’s fan support by going out in the community and greeting fans more personally. He said he realizes it will be more of a grassroots effort to make Marylanders engaged in the institution’s team.
“He said all the right things that as an [alumnus] I want to hear,” said Karel C. Petraitis, a Terrapin Club board member and attorney in College Park, who attended the news conference. “We want an outstanding team, and I want us to be in Miami [to play in the Orange Bowl] next year.”
The Terrapin Club is the school’s booster club and raises money for athletic scholarships.
In laying out plans for the next five years, Anderson said he wants Edsall’s role to be about more than improving football.
“We must utilize all of our resources, not just winning within athletics,” Anderson said. “That means having to win back a lot of people to our stadium.”
Having success would improve the rest of the athletic department and its ability to compete at higher levels, he said. Out of Maryland’s 27 sports teams, men’s basketball and football bring in the most visitors according to the Terrapin Club. The department does not receive any public funding.
Another part of luring fans will to improve the team’s schedule in upcoming seasons. While many non-conference games are already scheduled, Edsall said fans will be more likely to come out if the Terps play bigger-name teams. Last season, Maryland’s non-conference games at Byrd Stadium were against Morgan State and Florida International University.