Closing The Door On Fridge Would Be The Wrong Call

November 29, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK -- Let's start with the bottom line: Ralph Friedgen expects to coach Maryland's football team next season.

He said that at least three times after the Terps' 19-17 loss to Boston College on Saturday before thousands of empty seats at Byrd Stadium.

He said it even as the Terps finished the season 2-10, their worst record since 1967. And he said it with athletic director Deborah Yow, who will ultimately decide his fate, sitting not 20 feet away from him in the Gossett Football Team House.

"I just told [my players] how proud I was of them," an emotional Friedgen told the media. "

" 'Cause sometimes, if things happen, you don't get that opportunity. And that's all I said to them. But I do expect to be back."

I think the Fridge is right. I think he will be back.

And if you consider all he has done for this program and what a mess it would be to sack him, bringing him back is probably the right decision.

The Fridge took Maryland to six bowl games - and won four - in nine seasons.

He won 66 games and lost 46. He ran a clean program, made sure his players stayed out of trouble, made sure a lot of them graduated.

If I'm Yow, I don't fixate on the 10 losses this season.

For one thing, the team was super young, with a green offensive line that often had Terps quarterbacks scrambling for their lives.

Then there was a ridiculous number of injuries to key players such as running back Da'Rel Scott, cornerback Nolan Carroll, linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, offensive tackle Bruce Campbell and quarterback Chris Turner.

Sure, the team posted a losing record in four of the past six seasons.

And, yes, it failed to live up to expectations as recently as last season, when it went 8-5 with a senior-dominated team that was expected to contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference title and instead ended up in college football's Siberia: the lowly Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

But let's face it: Firing Friedgen, 62, who has two years remaining on his contract, could get messy for Maryland.

If the school buys him out, it would have to shell out some $4 million.

And how would that look with the state already dealing with worker furloughs and deep cuts to its academic budgets?

Gov. Martin O'Malley already weighed in on the issue, saying public funds shouldn't be used to buy out the Fridge.

Do you thumb your nose at the guv and go against him on this one?

After all, there has been no confirmation that any boosters with deep pockets are stepping up to buy out the Fridge.

Look, there's no question that all the losing has taken its toll on this football program.

Attendance at Byrd Stadium continues to decline. Season-ticket sales are down, from 28,661 in 2005 to 22,804 this year.

And the pricey luxury suites - that's probably redundant, are any luxury suites not pricey? - aren't moving. A third are still unsold.

But a winning season or two and a strong rebound of the economy could turn that around in a hurry.

There's also the issue of what to do with James Franklin, the Terps' offensive coordinator and Friedgen's designated successor.

Nine months ago, Franklin signed a deal with Maryland that promised him $1 million if he doesn't succeed Friedgen as head coach by Jan. 2, 2012.

It was probably a dumb thing for Maryland to do. The school did it to keep Franklin from leaving and to ensure continuity in the program.

So what happens to Franklin if the Fridge is fired?

Do you make Franklin the head coach? Even though Fridge was his mentor? Even though Franklin embraces many of the same coaching philosophies as Friedgen?

C'mon, how awkward would that be?

Or do you have to buy Franklin out, too, jacking the total cost of the buyout to $5 million and having the governor spit out his coffee when he reads that sum in his morning paper?

So now Friedgen and Yow will sit down to discuss the big guy's future.

Informed speculation has it that Yow will ask him to make some changes to his coaching staff.

That'll be painful for the Fridge. He's a loyal guy to a fault.

But after a disastrous 2-10 season and four losing seasons in six years, he'll have to smile and accept any condition if he wants to keep his job.

And Saturday night, it sure sounded like he wanted to return, wanted another crack at coaching a team full of young players he grew to love this season.

"They never quit on me," he said. "Why would I quit on them? I want to be there when they're good."

It looks like he'll get the chance - at least for one more year.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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