COLLEGE PARK — - Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow acknowledged late this week that her relationship with football coach Ralph Friedgen became strained this season because of losses and economic pressures but said "the air was cleared" during a recent round of talks about his job status.
Yow said the talks - which ended with Tuesday's announcement that Friedgen would return for his 10th season at his alma mater - restored "synergy" in their relationship that had eroded as the team slipped to 10 defeats for the first time and season-ticket sales slumped.
"While we still have real issues (ticket sales and wins/losses) I believe we regained a considerable portion of our earlier trust towards each other that made the working relationship so enjoyable," Yow wrote in an e-mail reply to a Baltimore Sun query.
Maryland's 2-10 season was difficult on many fronts. The injury-riddled team lost its last seven games. Season-ticket sales continued to fall - from 28,661 in 2005 to 22,804 this season - and about one-third of Byrd Stadium's new suites remained unsold. Football and other sports experienced budget cuts, and private money was needed to minimize the number of road trips made by buses rather than planes.
Yow said she had once enjoyed friendly banter with Friedgen, 62, whom she hired before the 2001 season and who is 66-46 in nine seasons. She said the two had shared "as collegial a relationship as I have ever witnessed between an [athletic director] and a Head Football Coach."
But she said the pressures of the seasons exacted a toll. "Our conversations then became more about the financial implications of losing, the need (hopefully temporary) for foundation funds to supplement the football operations budget and the things he'd like to see changed regarding various university policies."
Yow continued: "That was a foundational shift in the collaborative synergy we have always shared. I know there were times I lost my patience. This type of stress-related pressure and conversations were probably occurring across the nation at all other struggling football programs between ADs and Head Coaches this year, so I don't think it was unusual."
Friedgen could not be reached for comment. The coach, who was on a recruiting trip, did not reply to messages left with him and his attorney seeking reaction to Yow's remarks.
Friedgen's supporters have said he felt undermined this season by Yow's lack of vocal support - publicly and privately.
One dispute that contributed to the strain involved assistant football coaches believing they were owed bonuses based on last season's record of 8-5 (4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). The university, however, interpreted the contract language differently and declined to pay.
Friedgen didn't directly address his relationship with Yow during media interviews Tuesday. He said he shared her high expectations for the team's future and appreciated her giving him a chance to win more games. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity," he said.
Friedgen thanked Yow again in a letter sent this week to Terps supporters expressing optimism about next season and appealing to them to renew their season tickets.
"Returning the program to that level of competition, along with Top 25 finishes remains our top priority," the letter said.
"I am a proud Terp and I consider it an honor to coach here at the University of Maryland and I thank Debbie Yow and [university president] Dr. Dan Mote for their continued support."