Ralph Friedgen's future as Maryland football coach is being determined in a series of continuing conversations with the Maryland athletic director that are expected to produce a conclusion by early next week on whether Friedgen will even return next season to finish his contract.
Athletic director Kevin Anderson's options include Maryland buying out the final year of the coach's contract, but that hasn't been decided yet, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told The Baltimore Sun.
Friedgen's job uncertainty results from Anderson's desire -- which he has expressed in various settings -- to have the best coach, not only for next season, but for the long term.
Since Maryland does not want a lame-duck coach, the school must determine whether Friedgen is the right man, not only for next season, but for well beyond.
After former Terps offensive coordinator James Franklin was introduced as Vanderbilt's coach Friday, Anderson declined to commit to Friedgen as next season's coach during a conference call with reporters. Anderson released a statement Nov. 18 guaranteeing that Friedgen would return for the final year of his contract.
"We've been talking and we talked last night," Anderson said Friday. "We were going to talk more this afternoon but he got sick. We'll talk this weekend or finish our discussions Monday morning. Next week everyone will understand where we're going."
A Maryland spokesman said Friedgen was feeling sick and was unavailable for comment. Phone messages left for Friedgen were not immediately returned.
ESPN.com reported Friday that Maryland is "strongly considering" asking Friedgen, 63, to retire and accept a buyout. The ESPN report named former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, former Washington coach Tyrone Willingham and New Mexico coach Mike Locksley -- a former Maryland assistant -- as potential replacements for Friedgen. The Washington Post reported that Leach "would emerge as the leading candidate." A source close to Maryland said nothing is set in stone.
Anderson was asked by reporters after Maryland's 42-23 win over Virginia on Nov. 13 whether he would guarantee Friedgen's return and Anderson declined comment. Days later, Anderson said in a brief statement that Friedgen would return in 2011, but has since declined to speculate on whether his contract would be extended. Friedgen's attorney, Jack Reale, told The Baltimore Sun this month that "an extension [for Friedgen] is absolutely in order. I think he has earned it."
Coming off a 2-10 season in 2009, Friedgen guided the Terps to an 8-4 mark this year and was named Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. He has a 74-50 record in 10 seasons as his alma mater's coach. He has reached seven bowls in 10 years, including the Military Bowl on Dec. 29. However, after finishing tied for third in the ACC, many expected Maryland to go to a more prominent bowl.
Maryland has been unable to sell out all the suites at the remodeled Tyser Tower, part of Byrd Stadium.
Asked about the unsold suites in October, Anderson adopted a grim tone and said that leasing them needed to be a top priority.
Former congressman and Maryland basketball star Tom McMillen, a member of the Board of Regents, said Friedgen did his job by winning.
"The coach is supposed to win. The athletic department is supposed to fill the stands. Those are the metrics we ought to be using. As far as I'm concerned, Ralph won," McMillen said.
Friedgen makes about $2 million a year. Maryland potentially saved $1 million when Franklin left for Vanderbilt, but it's uncertain where money for a Friedgen buyout would come from.
Friedgen has had mixed support among Maryland boosters. Some alumni have applauded his loyalty to his alma mater and his coaching record, while others have said the school needs a splashy hire such as Leach to sell suites and more tickets.
Maryland supporter Barry DesRoches said Anderson "strikes me as a bright, analytical guy who has got to look after the best interests of the university. There are two scoreboards: the won-lost record and the [financial] bottom line."
Franklin, 38, was named Maryland's "coach in waiting" in February 2009 by former athletic director Debbie Yow, who is now the athletic director at North Carolina State. Franklin was promised $1 million if he was not elevated to head coach by Jan. 2, 2012.
When informed that Franklin had been offered the job at Vanderbilt, Anderson said he did not extend a counteroffer.
"I congratulate James on becoming the head coach of Vanderbilt University," Anderson said. "This is something he wanted to do and pursue and I felt that James couldn't wait any longer for us to come up with where we were going. I thought it was a good thing for James to do because he had the offer in hand."