Friedgen's firing was weeks in the making

New athletic director Anderson regrets the drama that surrounded ouster of veteran coach

December 21, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Ralph Friedgen's career as the football coach at Maryland began slipping away during a dinner with athletic director Kevin Anderson at a Bethesda hotel steakhouse that didn't produce the consensus Friedgen eagerly sought.

Friedgen, who was given formal notice of his ouster Monday, was at the end of coaching Maryland to an 8-4 regular-season record — after a 2-10 season — and considered the dinner a chance to get to know Anderson better and discuss his vision for the program's future. Anderson, who is in his first year at Maryland, had already issued a written statement saying Friedgen would remain at least one more season to complete his contract.

But instead of fostering an accord, the dinner several weeks ago revealed an impasse between Friedgen — the Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year — and Anderson that could never be overcome.

Anderson's feelings became apparent during a call with reporters last Friday, when he paused for a second too long after a question about Friedgen's future. His answer — that he would reveal his plan this week — lit the fuse for an explosive weekend for Maryland football that ended Monday with the announcement that Friedgen's 10-year career at Maryland is ending.

Anderson said his choices were to tell the truth during the conference call, "or lie."

"I tried very hard not to have this happen, and it's unfortunate," Anderson told The Baltimore Sun Monday. "This was not my intent for it to go down this way."

Friedgen, 63, received his buyout notice Monday from a university attorney in his office overlooking Byrd Stadium. Now, a week from playing in the Military Bowl, Maryland seeks a new coach who will, Anderson hopes, take the Terps from "good to great."

Anderson said a committee will be formed to conduct a national search and he hopes to have a new coach in place by Jan. 4.

Friedgen's desire for an extension — delivered during the dinner and publicly  through the media — created a divide with Anderson, who had only been willing to commit to the coach for a year.

"We talked (at the dinner) about philosophy and everything else, and then he talked about a contract extension," Anderson said. "He told me at that time that he didn't want to be a lame duck. I told him I wasn't prepared to talk about or to offer him an extension."

Allowing Friedgen even one more season then became problematic, Anderson said, when offensive coordinator James Franklin — Friedgen's designated successor — left last week to become head coach at Vanderbilt.

Keeping Friedgen, Anderson said, would have created a huge recruiting hole because its top recruiter — Franklin — was leaving and the school would then have had a lame-duck head coach who couldn't commit to potential star players for more than one season.

Anderson also said Maryland could not have hired top assistant coaches.

"Nobody would come here and work for a year under those circumstances," he said. "What good coach would come in here just knowing he was only going to be here a year?"

Friedgen, a former Maryland offensive lineman whose father was a high school coach, did not appear at a news conference Monday in which Anderson announced that the final season of the coach's roughly $2-million-a-year contract was being bought out in a "strategic business decision," effective Jan. 2.

Anderson said former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is on a list of possible replacements. Anderson is interested enough in Leach that he has begun researching his credentials, including his former players' graduation rates. But Anderson insisted there was no frontrunner and said he had never met or contacted Leach. Leach has said he would talk to Maryland about the position.

Friedgen, who declined to be interviewed, is eager to coach his team one last time in the Dec. 29 Military Bowl at Washington's RFK Stadium and will be permitted to do so, according to Anderson and Friedgen's attorney, Jack Reale.

In an interview, Reale called Maryland's public explanations of Friedgen's ouster "hollow" and a "theater of the absurd."

"No coach wants to be a lame duck because it's going to be extremely difficult to recruit or attract coaches. Any coach I know would express exactly that sentiment," Reale said. "But that was a problem easily solved — extend his contract. The net is they didn't want him to coach after next year regardless of results, regardless of performance. Somebody had decided they didn't want him to be the coach any more."

It didn't help Friedgen's cause, Anderson told The Sun, that Friedgen had not been shy about publicly expressing his firm belief that he had earned the right to a contract extension after a turnaround season in which the Terps won six more regular-season games than a year ago.

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