COLLEGE PARK - With 31 victories in three years and a track record for graduating players, Ralph Friedgen certainly hasn't been short on suitors trying to lure him away from Maryland. Yesterday, to prevent that from happening, the university reached an agreement with Friedgen that will give him a 20 percent raise through the life of his contract, which runs through 2012.
The new contract will pay Friedgen $1.5 million guaranteed a year - an annual increase of about $250,000 - with a base salary of $210,790, according to Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow.
There is also a new $1 million buyout clause in the agreement, meaning Friedgen, 57, would have to compensate the university that amount if he decided to take a coaching job elsewhere. Friedgen's previous contract, which he signed after his first season at Maryland, did not include a buyout clause.
"The [buyout clause] was essential," Yow said. "That was one of the discussion points that precipitated the full-blown conversation about changes to the contract. It gives us a security element, not just as an institution, but also for our fans and our recruits."
"I feel really good about it," Friedgen said. "It puts an end to all the rumors. In eight years, I'll be 65. We can re-evaluate it at that time. This is where I wanted to end my career."
Friedgen has frequently been mentioned in the media as a candidate for an NFL head coaching position. Yesterday, he said he had received inquiries earlier this year from four NFL teams. Friedgen added that he had been offered a position by another Atlantic Coast Conference school within the past three years. Yow said the buyout clause was mainly put in the contract to protect Maryland from other universities.
"That's a significant amount of money to any other college program," Yow said. "Certainly professional entities would probably be able to pay $1 million, but I don't know if we could ever get to a place where a buyout would be so significant that we could eliminate all professional entities. ... It's certainly better than what we had, which was zero."
Yow said she and Friedgen have had a "handshake deal" since Jan. 3, two days after Maryland defeated West Virginia, 41-7, in the Gator Bowl, but that the two sides weren't able to finalize the deal until yesterday.
"I think it's a fair contract," Friedgen said. "Will I be the richest guy in college football? No, but I'll be one of the higher guys in the ACC. If it was strictly about the money, it would probably be a lucrative situation to go to the NFL. But I enjoy coaching college kids."
Friedgen's new deal could pay him even more with bonus incentives tied to graduation rates and Maryland's finishes each year in the ACC. Yow said she couldn't give specific numbers for the bonuses, but said they had been increased from the previous deal. Friedgen's old contract paid him $225,000 if Maryland finished first in the ACC, and he could also earn $35,000 if 70 percent of his players graduate, and $75,000 if 75 percent or higher graduate. Since he was hired in 2000, 58 of the 66 players who have exhausted eligibility have graduated (87.8 percent), including 30 in five years or less.
"The goal is graduate athletes and also to win," Yow said. "Generally you'll find places where they do one or the other, but not both as same time. This year we have 19 seniors, and all 19 are on schedule to graduate. As important as winning is, that's even more important."
Dutch Baughman, the executive director for the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association, said that Friedgen's raise puts him among the 15 highest-paid college football coaches in the country. LSU's Nick Saban earns the most, with a contract that guarantees him at least $2.3 million this year.
Yow said she believed Friedgen is the third-highest paid coach in the ACC, behind Larry Coker at Miami and Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
None of Friedgen's salary comes from taxpayer dollars, and Yow said the athletic department contributed $6 million in revenue to the university.
"Our athletic department has now balanced its budget for the 10th consecutive year after not balancing it for 10 straight years prior," Yow said. "We're trying to do things the right way."
NOTES: Maryland will have a scrimmage that is open to the public today at about 4:30 p.m. ... Maryland freshman running back Keon Lattimore dislocated his shoulder during yesterday's practice and was carted off the field.