Friedgen nears judgment day

Job security of longtime coach is biggest question facing Maryland as season concludes against Boston College today

November 28, 2009|By Jeff Barker | jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK — — Maryland will end a dismal football season today that satisfied no one - not the players, the fans or coach Ralph Friedgen, who finds his job on the line with two more years remaining on his contract.

With the bowl hopes of the Terrapins (2-9, 1-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) having ended weeks ago, they will play Boston College (7-4, 4-3) for what is left - the chance to end a six-game losing streak and avoid the team's first 10-loss season.

And many will, in a sense, be playing for Friedgen, who will begin meetings with athletic director Deborah Yow as early as Sunday to determine whether he returns for a 10th season at his alma mater.

"He's been a winner before, and I think he has the ability to do it again," said safety Antwine Perez, a redshirt junior. Perez said the team has been "pushing hard" to get a win not only for itself but also for Friedgen and the assistant coaches, whose jobs also are believed to be on the line because of Yow's review.

Yow, whose department still is trying to market new, unsold luxury suites inside Byrd Stadium, is expected to examine the football program as a whole - including wins and losses, bowl-game appearances during Friedgen's tenure, recruiting and ticket sales. She has declined comment on her review.

If Friedgen remains, his relationship with Yow would require mending. His supporters have grown frustrated by her refusal to publicly back him as fan criticism mounted along with the losses. Yow instead said she would evaluate Friedgen's performance after the season concluded, a practice she always goes through with coaches. Meanwhile, Friedgen's assistant coaches clashed with the school in a contract dispute over unpaid bonuses they believed were owed them from last season.

If she opted to fire Friedgen, Yow would need to weigh the cost and potential political fallout. Some university-system officials say it would be difficult to buy him out - it would require about $4 million - as the state is dealing with furloughs and academic budget cuts. The question facing Yow is whether a coaching change will aid in the goals - shared by nearly everyone - of returning the Terrapins to the Top 25 status of Friedgen's early years, increasing ticket and suites sales and boosting recruiting.

A 1970 Maryland graduate, Friedgen replaced Ron Vanderlinden, whose teams were 15-29 in four seasons and never reached a bowl game.

Friedgen took the Terps to the Orange Bowl in his first season, going 10-2 in 2001. The Terps won 11 games the next season and 10 the year after that. But, including this season, the Terps are 35-37 since the 2004 season opened.

"He raised our expectations level very high," said Terps supporter Joseph Rockhill, who is active in the Maryland Gridiron Network booster group and says he is "torn" about whether Friedgen should return.

Another MGN member, Gary Jackson, said fans need to look at Friedgen's overall record, not just this season's. "It would be difficult to fire a man of that stature," Jackson said.

Along with Friedgen's early wins came fans. Under Vanderlinden, the team averaged 30,561 fans per home game. Friedgen's teams averaged 49,187 through last season. This season's Byrd Stadium games were averaging 44,921 fans up to the last contest against Virginia Tech, according to the school's attendance figures.

But season-ticket sales have fallen from 28,661 in 2005 to 22,804 this season, the school said, and about one-third of the luxury suites remain unsold.

"It's hard to separate declines resulting from poor performance and declines resulting from overall declines in the economy," UMBC sports economist Dennis Coates said.

Coates said bowl games are especially important in evaluating football coaches' performances. "The sort of stories that college presidents tell is that when we perform and go to bowl games, we get more and better students applying," he said.

Friedgen's teams have been to six bowl games in nine seasons, winning four.

Last season's team went to the Humanitarian Bowl, a lower-echelon game in Boise, Idaho. Maryland won the game and ended with an 8-5 record. But the season was disappointing to Friedgen and the players because the senior-dominated Terps had been 6-2 and positioned to make a run for the ACC title.

The team can do better, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, an ardent Terps booster. "Could there be better recruiting? Yes. ... His recruiting for the past five years has not borne fruit."

As to Friedgen's status, Miller said: "We just have to let this thing play out" between the coach and Yow.

Maryland's latest recruiting class, announced in February, was rated 26th nationally by Rivals.com and Scout.com - one of the highest such ratings for the Terrapins in recent years.

This is one of Maryland's youngest teams in years. Fifty-eight of Maryland's 85 scholarship players have at least three years of eligibility remaining.

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