Friedgen hasn't agreed to retire, but will coach Terps in bowl game

ACC Coach of the Year may force school to buy out his contract

Maryland interested in Leach

December 19, 2010|By Jeff Barker and Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen has still not agreed to retire -- a position that appears to force the university's hand since he has been told he won't return for the 2011 season, sources say. But Friedgen does intend to coach the Terps in the Military Bowl on Dec. 29.

Friedgen and Maryland have yet to work out the details of his separation. If he doesn't retire, the university would likely have to buy out the remaining season of his roughly $2 million-a-year contract. Since it is a contract issue, one source said, the matter would likely be reviewed by university officials outside the athletic department.

Maryland is interested in former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who was fired at the end of the 2009 season despite leading the Red Raiders to 10 straight winning seasons and national prominence. Leach, a big name, has long been of interest to many boosters concerned about Maryland's dwindling fan base. The school has not confirmed that Leach is a candidate.

Friedgen, 63, attended mass Sunday and was with assistant coaches at a Christmas reception in the afternoon. It remains uncertain how many assistants will join former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin at Vanderbilt, where Franklin is the new head coach.

Friedgen, the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year, has declined comment since athletic director Kevin Anderson made it clear to him that he was not coming back next year.

Friedgen's job status became uncertain when Anderson decided he wanted to hire a long-term coach rather than bring back Friedgen for one lame-duck season to serve out the remainder of his contract.

Shortly after Franklin was introduced as Vanderbilt's new coach Friday, Anderson was noncommittal when asked about Friedgen's return next season on a conference call. He said an announcement regarding the coach's future would be made this week.

Friedgen was originally scheduled to be on the call but was uncomfortable participating, according to multiple sources who said Maryland did not intend for the story of Friedgen's imminent departure to be disclosed through the media.

Efforts over the weekend to reach Leach were unsuccessful. Gary O'Hagan, Leach's agent, said Saturday that he was in Lawrence, Kan., attending the Kansas-Southern Cal basketball game and that Leach "had gone fishing." Leach, who now lives in Key West, Fla., did not respond to text messages to his cell phone.

Leach reportedly has a good relationship with former Maryland football player and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. The Texas Tech football team was one of the first to sign with the Baltimore-based sports apparel company. Plank was out of town on business, a spokeswoman for Under Armour said Saturday.

Plank maintains close ties with the university. Many boosters wondered in 2009 whether Plank would help buy out the remainder of Friedgen's contract if Friedgen stepped down after a 2-10 season, his worst at the school. But Friedgen remained, saying he wanted to turn things around.

The message-board reaction among fans and boosters to the coaching change has been mixed. But one of Friedgen's closest friends in the coaching business said Sunday that the sudden reversal by Anderson was "highly suspect."

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who owns a summer home in the same development in Georgia as Friedgen and has known Friedgen since they served as graduate assistants at Maryland under Jerry Claiborne, said he has never heard of someone being forced out after being named coach of the year.

"This shouldn't be about who the next guy is. This should be about what they're doing to Ralph," Beamer said in a phone interview Sunday. "When you've got a guy who's a loyal alum, who's a tremendous football coach and who is responsible for bringing Maryland football back to where it is, something like this should not happen."

Aware that the decision is also based on a precipitous drop in season's ticket sales and the fact that luxury boxes at Byrd Stadium remain unsold, Beamer said that this year's performance and next season's prospects -- including returning ACC Rookie of the Year quarterback Danny O'Brien and more than a dozen other starters -- should help bring fans back.

"I can understand how fans might not have been excited after last season, but you have a team that should be picked pretty high in the conference next year coming back," Beamer said. "There is a very thin line between winning and losing in college football. Look at Texas. Last year they were playing for a national championship and this year they're not even in a bowl game."

A source close to the Maryland football program said Sunday that the Terps' coaches were still planning to have their regular 7:30 a.m. meeting Monday. The staff didn't meet Sunday as originally scheduled, but Maryland did host recruits -- who arrived Friday -- this weekend.

It is not clear how quickly Anderson plans to move in making the coaching change. The players will return to campus Wednesday to get ready for the Military Bowl against East Carolina on Dec. 29 at RFK Stadium in Washington. The emotional Friedgen has said all season that this has been one of his favorite teams to coach because of their resilience and spirit.

East Carolina (6-6) is coached by Ruffin McNeill, who was named interim coach at Texas Tech last season for the Alamo Bowl after Leach was fired for threatening to sue the university when it suspended him for his treatment of wide receiver Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James.

When McNeill was passed over for former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, he left and took five members of Leach's staff with him to East Carolina. A number of those assistants, several of them former players under Leach, could be in line to come to Maryland should he be hired.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com
don.markus@baltsun.com

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