Maryland's treatment of Friedgen unexpected, undeserved

December 18, 2010|Peter Schmuck

One minute, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen is celebrating another ACC Coach of the Year Award and an assurance from his boss that he will be back for the final year of his contract. The next, well, he's twisting in the wind and apparently headed for an unexpected early retirement.

New Terps athletic director Kevin Anderson reluctantly revealed on Friday that Friedgen's status was still up in the air and that the future of the Maryland football program would become clearer by the end of next week, but I think one thing is crystal clear already.

Friedgen doesn't deserve this.

He returned the program to national prominence when he was hired 10 years ago, and he brought the Terps back again this year — from the 2-10 disaster that was 2009 to a respectable 8-4 record and a berth in the Military Bowl. That's not exactly Tostitos territory, of course, but the Terps are a solid favorite to beat East Carolina, and you don't see a lot of coaches getting put out to pasture after nine-win seasons.

So, what's going on here? What was it that made Anderson so sure in November that Friedgen was the man to coach the Terps in 2011 and so unsure about it on Friday?

The obvious answer might be the original subject of the conference call in which Anderson let slip that Maryland might be in the market for a new head coach.

The departure of offensive coordinator James Franklin — to become the new coach at Vanderbilt — absolved the athletic department of the obligation to pay him $1 million if he did not replace Friedgen by 2012. That financial commitment was originally viewed as a stumbling block to Friedgen getting a contract extension, but Franklin's exit may have instead become the catalyst for this stunning development.

It left Anderson to ponder the long-term future of the Terps program and — apparently — decide that he isn't comfortable giving Friedgen an extension and doesn't want to go into the 2011 season with a lame-duck coach.

Fair enough, but this dramatic flip-flop doesn't exactly leave him looking like the decisive new leader he was portrayed to be when he left West Point to replace Debbie Yow as Maryland's AD.

Speculation already is rampant that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach — who was fired by that school after a showdown with the administration over the treatment of the son of ESPN football analyst Craig James — is the top candidate to take over the program. He's a very good coach and good friend of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank — a huge Maryland athletic donor — but that's not the point, at least not yet.

Maybe the Terps would be better served by a new coach with a new long-range vision for the program, but that's not the point either, at least not for a few more days.

The point is, this isn't how you treat a 10-year coach with a winning record who dragged your program out of an era of mediocrity. Friedgen led the Terps to the Orange Bowl in his first season and went on to win 10 games three straight times before suffering losing seasons in 2004 and 2005. The Terps have had three winning seasons over the past five years, but last season's 2-10 collapse put Friedgen on the hot seat this year.

The prevailing school of thought coming into the 2010 season was that he would survive to coach the final year of his contract if the Terps bounced back to win at least six regular-season games and earn a bowl berth for the seventh time in Friedgen's 10 seasons as coach.

They did more than that, though another year of so-so attendance forced the Terps to accept a far less prestigious bowl bid than their record and standing in the ACC should have warranted.

That's probably another reason that Anderson wants to take the football program in a new direction, and his first consideration has to be what is in the best long-term interests of the program.

This might be the right thing to do.

It just isn't the right way to do it.

Friedgen doesn't deserve this.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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