Intrigue aside, keeping Friedgen was the right choice

Coach says pressure 'comes with the territory'

December 02, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

Everything considered, it cannot be a huge surprise that Ralph Friedgen is still the football coach at the University of Maryland, but this situation couldn't have contained more intrigue if athletic director Debbie Yow had knocked the windows out of his SUV with a 5-iron or gate-crashed a White House dinner.

Friedgen is coming back because that is the most logical scenario at this time for all concerned, and when I say all concerned, I'm talking about all the people who were telling Yow that paying somebody $4 million to do nothing the next couple of years - while paying a new coach that much again or more - wasn't going to fly very high in the current economic climate.

I mean, who didn't weigh in on this decision?

When Friedgen's job security started to become a real issue this year, you had to figure there would be some back-and-forth between Fridge and Yow and some grumbling from the well-heeled alumni who support the Terrapins' athletic programs, but I can't remember the last time the football coach at a major college was essentially pardoned by the governor.

When Gov. Martin O'Malley put it on the street that he didn't want to see any state money go to a buyout of Friedgen, it seemed pretty obvious which way this thing was going to go.

Suddenly, everybody had an opinion. Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Maryland grad and big-time Terps booster, publicly criticized Friedgen's recruiting during the past half-decade, and Tom McMillen acknowledged that the university system's Board of Regents might have a problem with a multimillion-dollar Friedgen buyout.

Terps fans were torn. The nonscientific Internet poll run by The Baltimore Sun the past few days showed general support for Friedgen and - by late afternoon Tuesday - nearly 70 percent of respondents favored the decision to give him a chance to revive his struggling program, but he also has taken a large measure of criticism from the stands and the Terps message boards.

When a big-conference team goes 2-10, you have to expect that sort of thing, and Friedgen handled it OK.

"It comes with the territory," he said on a conference call Tuesday.

"We're expected to win football games, graduate student-athletes and help them reach their goals. So, I know that when we are not winning games, we're not making a lot of people happy - the fans, the alumni, the administration but, most importantly, myself."

Needless to say, you didn't want to be Yow the past couple of weeks. Friedgen was the biggest hire of her tenure as athletic director. Firing him would have been a rare acknowledgment of failure, even though hiring him was viewed as an act of genius after he reeled off an early string of 10-win seasons and bowl appearances. Keeping him also comes with significant risk, because their legacies are now more intertwined than ever before.

Perhaps you could make the case that Yow has some cover here, because of the political pressure that was placed on her to avoid a buyout in this economy, but who's going to remember that if the Terps crater again next year?

For his part, Friedgen was quick to try to buy himself some extra time during his conference call with the media Tuesday afternoon.

"I think we've got a chance to be good next year and really good the year after that," he said.

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail could not have said that any better.

Still, all the input from meddlesome politicians and discontented boosters aside, the decision to keep Friedgen was the correct one for a lot of less complicated reasons. He's a good coach with a solid resume who ran aground this year with a very young team that was severely weakened by injuries.

It's true that the Terps have had a losing record four of the past six seasons, but it's also true that they have gone places under Friedgen that they could only have dreamed about before his arrival nine years ago.

That should count for something with the angry fans who wanted their pound of flesh after an embarrassing season.

Friedgen likes to point to the way the Terps battled Florida State and Boston College in the final two games as a sign of the team's character and an indication of good things to come. His 2009 recruiting class got decent marks from scouting bureaus. So, he had some hope to sell when he met with Yow the past few days to discuss the future of the team.

Who knows whether she bought that hope or just didn't have the support to buy him out?

Maybe it was a little of both.

Listen to Peter Schmuck | The Baltimore Sun when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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