COLLEGE PARK — New Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said Thursday that football coach Ralph Friedgen is doing "a fantastic job" under trying circumstances, but that it would be premature to guarantee that Friedgen will return next year if the team keeps winning.
"He's 4-and-1 right now," Anderson said in an interview. "Continue on that path, I don't think we'll be having this discussion. "
Anderson was less enthusiastic about the "coach-in-waiting" plan that his predecessor, Deborah Yow, negotiated under which Friedgen is to be succeeded by offensive coordinator James Franklin by January 2012 .
"I'm going to go out on this limb: I can't see how this (plan) serves the program well," Anderson said. "Because what happens now is you have two people that a staff has to serve."
The succession plan was negotiated by Yow in 2009 after Franklin had attracted the interest of several college and NFL teams. Yow, who is now North Carolina State's athletic director, said at the time that she wanted to ensure that Maryland did not lose Franklin and that potential recruits knew the program was in good hands.
It has become increasingly popular for businesses and schools to name replacements in advance. Florida State, Texas, Oregon and Kentucky are among the schools that have used the approach with their football coaches to lure and retain talent.
But Anderson said: "My biggest fear of this is that when you have that situation, it's divisive to the staff."
Anderson said his statements were not intended as criticism of Franklin, but rather of "coach-in-waiting" procedures generally. "It's not an indictment of James. I think James has done a great job here from what I know," he said.
Franklin is contractually due to receive $1 million from the school if he is not named to succeed Friedgen by Jan. 2, 2012.
In an interview, Friedgen said he and Franklin have worked to prevent divisions in the program based on their roles or personalities.
"James and I are very much in lockstep on philosophy and how I think a program is being built," he said. "You at least know who the next coach at Maryland is."
Franklin told The Sun before the season: "Nothing has changed. There was a contract. There still is a contract. It's signed; it's binding."
Anderson raised another issue with the "coach-in-waiting" plan. Under NCAA rules, Franklin is now under similar recruiting restrictions as a head coach and is restricted from multiple contacts during a critical recruiting period. Franklin is widely considered Maryland's best recruiter.
"We're appealing that with the NCAA," Anderson said. "That puts us into a predicament now where it disadvantages us in the recruiting aspect."
The rule is designed to ensure that assistant coaches who have been named "head-coach-in-waiting" don't enjoy recruiting advantages over those who have not, according to an NCAA legislative manual. Friedgen called the rule "grossly unfair."
Anderson , the former Army athletic director, began at Maryland on Oct. 1. He was interviewed in his Comcast Center office, where he was still putting up photos of his family and placing posters on the wall.
Anderson said his contract will be for five years — the same term given Yow when she arrived at Maryland in 1994. Anderson said he is working under a "memorandum of understanding" while his contract is finalized.
After last season's 2-10 record — the worst under Friedgen — the coach and Yow had several private discussions with his job on the line. She said after he was retained that "I think a winning record in the regular season would be reasonable at this point."
Friedgen has one more year on his contract after this season.
Asked whether a winning record would mean Friedgen would be retained, Anderson replied: "I'm taking everything in now and want to make the best decision possible for the department and for the university. I haven't had the opportunity to sit down and have an in-depth conversation with coach (Friedgen). I haven't had the opportunity to sit down with the president."
But Anderson added: "He's done a fantastic job. From what I see, they're all together, they're rowing in the same direction. He's done a tremendous job of keeping it together under some trying circumstances."
Friedgen, in his 10th season, said he had an introductory conversation with Anderson Thursday.
"He said he was going home this weekend and that we'd have another discussion next week." Friedgen said. "I'm kind of excited about it, to be honest with you."