Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen has been told by the university that he cannot return next season to complete the final year of his contract, according to officials familiar with the situation.
Friedgen has been asked to retire, but the coach -- in his 10th season -- resisted doing that, sources said Saturday afternoon. If he continued to decline to retire, Maryland would be left with the option of forcing him out and buying out the final season of his roughly $2 million-a-year contract with his alma mater.
Without Friedgen, the Maryland football program will have entirely new leadership next year under Kevin Anderson, who became athletic director in October. Offensive coordinator James Franklin -- a top recruiter who had been designated in 2009 as Friedgen"s successor -- left Friday to become Vanderbilt's coach.
That new leadership could be headed by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. Multiple sources have indicated that Leach is the likely top target of Maryland's coaching search and one report says he could be hired early this week. Leach's agent said Saturday that Leach has not been contacted by Maryland officials -- or any of the school's prominent boosters -- about replacing Friedgen.
In fact, Gary O'Hagan discounted media reports that surfaced Friday that the 50-year-old Leach could be headed to College Park anytime soon.
"Ralph's still the coach, right?" said O'Hagan, who also represents Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown and Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Friedgen has been talking with Anderson about his future, but no new talks were scheduled this weekend. Friedgen, the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year, has said he particularly enjoys coaching this team, which went 8-4 this season after a 2-10 campaign that almost cost him his job a year ago. His quarterback, Danny O'Brien, was the ACC Rookie of the Year.
Friedgen's job status became uncertain when Maryland decided it wanted to hire a coach for the long term, rather than have Friedgen return as a lame duck by serving out the final season of his contract next season.
Al Wujciak, the father of All-ACC linebacker Alex Wujciak, called the news of Friedgen's departure "a business decision" and said that if no commitment was made to Friedgen past next season, "all the assistants would leave anyway because they'd only be here for a year".
Wujciak said that it's as much a reflection on how Anderson felt about Franklin as he does about Friedgen, who he called a "straight shooter."
"Obviously the administration didn't want Franklin because if they wanted Franklin they were in the perfect situation. They let Ralph coach for a year and then Franklin comes in and coaches," said Wujciak, who played at Notre Dame when Ara Parseghian retired after his junior year and Dan Devine was brought in to coach the Irish. "Obviously they didn't want Franklin to be the head coach at Maryland. How else can you read it?"
Friedgen has a core of fans that supported him after last season when his job was in doubt under former athletic director Debbie Yow. Other Maryland backers have advocated for a change.
While appreciative of what Friedgen has done for the program by taking the team to seven bowls in 10 years, longtime booster and Terrapin Club member Chuck Corcoran said that Anderson's decision not to give Friedgen an extension makes sense.
"Obviously he's looking at the financial part of it," Corcoran said. "Football is going to bring in $2 million less [than projected]. I don't know what that does for the bottom line, but that's probably a loss to the bottom line. You can't support 27 sports with basketball being the only sport making money."
Corcoran said having a lame-duck coach next season was likely the impetus for Anderson's decision.
"I think the bigger issue is that if Kevin Anderson is not going to renew Ralph's contract next year, why let recruiting linger in limbo for two years?" Corcoran said. "From a recruiting standpoint and a stability standpoint for the program, it makes sense to buy him out and move forward, turn the page."
Cody Hodges, one of several quarterbacks who flourished in Leach's high-scoring spread offense, said that his former coach got a "bad rap" after being fired at Texas Tech.While saying that he is still loyal to both his alma mater and to Leach, Hodges said, "I'm glad somebody is going to give him a second chance. He's a great coach to play for."
A source close to the Maryland football program said Saturday that Friedgen hadn't addressed the coaching staff, but a meeting is scheduled for Sunday morning because it's a recruiting weekend on campus.
Maryland"s decision comes as a surprise because Anderson -- in a statement to the media last month -- had said the coach would be back in 2011. Friedgen's contract expires in January 2012.
Offensive lineman Paul Pinegar said earlier this month that players had believed during the season that they needed to have a winning record to preserve the coach's job.
But season ticket sales have slumped in the last five years and Maryland has struggled to lease all the luxury suites and premium seating in the renovated Tyser Tower, part of Byrd Stadium.
Friedgen, 63, has guided the Terps to a 74-50 record in 10 seasons. Maryland will play East Carolina on Dec. 29 in the Military Bowl. It remains unclear if Friedgen will coach in the bowl game.
"I'm very grateful for what Coach Friedgen has done in restoring Maryland football, but it was also quite obvious that enthusiasm was down in terms of tickets sold and financial support for the program," said Fabian Jimenez, a former member of the Maryland Gridiron Network's executive board. "... I feel it's better that if Mr. Anderson had no intention of renewing Ralph's contract after next year, instead of stringing him on for another year if he was going to make a move, it's totally logical to me why he has to do that."