For about 7 million reasons, Friedgen?s job never in doubt

November 26, 2006|By RICK MAESE

COLLEGE PARK -- You would?ve needed a vat of Windex to have seen this image clearly in your crystal ball just a couple months ago.

The year?s top Atlantic Coast Conference coaches were opposite each other last night, pacing the sidelines in a scene that no football expert could?ve predicted back in August. By the end of the night, either Jim Grobe?s Wake Forest team or Ralph Friedgen?s Maryland squad would be heading to the conference title game.

Of course, if not for Friedgen, Grobe already would?ve secured a spot in the ACC championship game regardless of last night?s result. And if not for Grobe, Friedgen would?ve locked up ACC Coach of the Year honors.

If it?s possible to forget the winner of last night?s game for a second, the fact that Grobe and Friedgen even positioned their teams to have a shot at playing for the conference title is quite an accomplishment.

Grobe?s season will surely be remembered with a series of trophies, whereas by the time bowl season passes, Friedgen?s impressive run will more likely be noted by some for merely saving the coach?s job. Many skeptics thought if the Terps couldn?t post at least a .500 record this season and return to a bowl game, Friedgen would be updating his resume come January.

That was just never the case, though, and today, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that Friedgen likely will be Maryland?s coach for the indefinite future.

Without even touching on Friedgen?s success in College Park, let?s look at the money, which always plays a rolewhen athletic directors are considering coaching changes.

Even if Friedgen?s team produced a third straight losing season and fans started lining the campus sidewalks with picket signs, Maryland would?ve had a hard time parting ways with Friedgen. There are five years remaining on his contract, and it would have cost Maryland more than $7.5 million to buy him out.

That money might exist in some programs, but not this one. Many coaches have buyout clauses, but Friedgen?s calls for him to be paid the total amount due if he were forced out early.

Dropping major coin like that to dump a coach mid-contract is rare. Larry Coker was fired at Miami and reportedly will receive $2.4 million to $3 million, which is still a high sum.

The point here is this: If Friedgen had lost this season, the only way the Terps would?ve faced a coaching change is if Friedgen would?ve quit. That kind of security might give some coaches a sense of comfort.

Friedgen, though, felt as much pressure as ever ? only it didn?t come from anyone above him. It came from within.

I?m not going to suggest that Friedgen?s coaching this season was more impressive than Grobe?s. The measurable differences accurately suggest Grobe did more with less. But Friedgen juggled the intangibles and coached with expectations that dwarfedwhatever Grobe felt.

Coming off a 4-7 season, the Demon Deacons were picked by The Sporting News to finish last in the Atlantic Division. Even before last night, they?d already set a school record for wins in a season and their turnaround entering last night?s game was second only to Arkansas? this season, if you go strictly bywinning percentages.

Friedgen entered the season facing a tough road, certainly one with bigger obstacles than Wake Forest?s. Eight of the Terps? opponents played in bowl games one season ago, and seven of them spent at least one week this season ranked in the Top 25. Unlike the Demon Deacons, the Terps didn?t have the benefit of playing Duke or North Carolina. Georgia Tech also had those wins gift wrapped on its schedule.

And Friedgen, who took over offensive coordinator duties this season, didn?t win because of the Terps? talent level; many times, he won in spite of it. Through 11 games, Maryland?s offense was ranked No. 96 in Division I-A and its defense No. 82. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach played above his abilities at many points in the season, even if early in last night?s game he threw as much to Wake Forest jerseys as Maryland ones.

While Grobe?s success is pinned to his team?s impressive turnaround, Friedgen?s Terps also turned an important corner, though it happened midseason. After losing to Georgia Tech on Oct. 7, no one would?ve been surprised if Maryland?s 3-2 mark turned into a 5-7 record by season?s end. This is when good coaching hasmore to do withmotivation than X?s and O?s.

The next five weeks were about as unpredictable as a Lemony Snicket story. The Terps reeled off five straight wins by a combined 13 points. Close games are often won or lost by the smallest of coaching decisions.

It?s fair to suggest that much of the Terps? success was due to weaknesses in the conference. But that shouldn?t discount what Maryland has done. Plenty of teams could?ve taken advantage of a down year in ACC play, but it was the Terps who managed to do just enough week in and week out. To merely have a shot at playing in the conference title game is an accomplishment Terps fans would?ve been thrilled with even a month ago.

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