To keep UM elevated, give Friedgen a raise


April 29, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

FROM THE SLEEK and spacious press box overlooking the kingdom of Bobby Bowden, there was no mistaking Debbie Yow's awe in September. Maryland's athletic director has the unenviable task of trying to keep up with what football-crazed Florida State already has.

To compete on the field means being able to compete on the sideline. No one has been shy about suggesting Ralph Friedgen is doing in College Park what Bowden has done in Tallahassee.

In other words: Time to pay the piper, again.

With a guaranteed salary of $1.1 million, Friedgen is underpaid. The Maryland football coach is the third-highest-paid coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He should be No. 2, and he will be, no matter how obscene the economic landscape of Division I football.

That's not Friedgen's fault. It's not even the fault of Yow, who even trekked off to Massachusetts to debate with noted economist Andrew Zimbalist the serious moral and practical issues surrounding college sports.

A cap on coaches' salaries is such a good idea, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has discussed ways to give the NCAA some relief from federal antitrust laws so it can institute a cap.

In Iowa and Minnesota, state legislators have discussed bills that would do the same thing, citing the inability or unwillingness of college presidents to restrain costs. But how many legislators are Hawkeyes or Gophers alums who couldn't bear to see their alma maters lose the arms race? No legislation yet, so the arms race continues, unchecked.

"I'm not dealing with the philosophical component of whether or not it's too much to pay," Yow said. "I'm dealing with a competitive environment and putting us in a position to succeed with proper leadership of student-athletes.

"You have to have the technical expertise, and you have to have someone who is concerned about graduation. I have that in our football coach. We have found our man. His name is Ralph Friedgen."

The arms race in college football is not news. Neither is the fact that Friedgen, the offensive mastermind who in three stellar years has put Maryland within striking distance of a national title, can make up to about $1.5 million this year.

Yesterday, before heading off to a two-hour meeting with Yow, Friedgen was said to be somewhere between insulted and angry. He did not want to talk about freshly published reports about his wages. We can hope he's not embarrassed about his salary. It's not his fault the going rate for fielding a Division I team is what it is.

So what if most of Friedgen's salary comes from incentives? He and basketball coach Gary Williams (at almost $1.9 million in potential earnings) are the two highest-paid state employees. There's no hiding from that.

The real trouble is, Friedgen is not getting paid enough. Football coaches in general get paid more than basketball, so Yow is facing a challenge requiring her skills and finesse - how to get Friedgen the going rate without leaving an NCAA champion coach, Williams, sputtering.

Tennessee recently bumped up Phil Fulmer's total annual compensation to almost $1.8 million. After the LSU Tigers beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, coach Nick Saban became the highest-paid coach in college football. An escalator clause in his contract guaranteed that plateau - by $1 - if he won the national title. That means Saban is now making more than $2 million, having leapfrogged the Sooners' Bob Stoops, the previously highest-paid coach.

This is how and why the arms race doesn't stop. Since Bowden became the NCAA's first million-dollar coach in 1995, the ego- and dollar-driven competition has been at full throttle. One guy picks up USA Today and sees another coach got a raise, and he marches into his AD's office to suggest he deserves a little more love and respect, too.

For all Friedgen has done in three seasons (31 wins, three bowl appearances, Byrd Stadium sellouts), he deserves a raise from Maryland.

The ACC is headed for richer television dollars. With Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College set to join the conference, the scale will tip further toward high salaries for coveted coaches.

For Maryland, that means taking care of the coach who already has proved he can take care of business. After she balances the budget, gives $6 million of athletic department money to the university to offset the budget and after she pays facility debt, Yow will try to do what she has to do.

"It would be appropriate for Ralph to be No. 2 [in the ACC]," said Yow, who promised that Friedgen, a 57-year-old Maryland alum, will retire from coaching as a Terrapin.

"He should be second. We can't make him No. 1, not when the top guy has won national championships. If that happens, we'll certainly revisit it. It would give me great pleasure to do that for him," she said.

Within the insane system where Friedgen and Yow compete, he deserves the raise. She must give it to him.

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