WASHINGTON — — A leading candidate to succeed Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen is expected to interview for the position as soon as today, according to a source familiar with the process.
A second source said Wednesday night that the candidate -- former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach -- was on campus Sunday but couldn't say whether Leach met already with university officials or members of the search committee. First-year athletic director Kevin Anderson was at the Military Bowl -- Friedgen's farewell game -- but an athletic department spokesman said he wasn't available for comment.
Maryland also is interested in Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, but Malzahn is not believed to have been in College Park.
ESPN.com is reporting that Maryland interviewed Malzahn last Wednesday and that an announcement could be made "within 48 hours" of the Terps' bowl game. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Auburn coach Gene Chizik said after his team's practice for its upcoming BCS national championship game that "there is the possibility of contact" between Malzahn and Maryland. Malzahn declined comment.
When Anderson said Dec. 20 that Friedgen would not return in 2011, Leach emerged as the frontrunner. But as the search committee appointed by Anderson scattered for Christmas, and Pat Richter, the former Wisconsin athletic director hired by Anderson as a consultant, started making phone calls in order to identify potential candidates, other names emerged.
Aside from Leach, 49, and Malzahn, who recently turned down a reported five-year, $15 million offer from Vanderbilt, other names mentioned prominently have been Connecticut coach Randy Edsall and Southern Methodist coach June Jones. Malzahn's decision to remain at Auburn led to Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin taking the job.
Anderson said that he would like to hire a new coach by Jan. 4, the day coaches are allowed to go on the road to start recruiting.
The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that Jones had talked with Maryland and Jones' agent, Leigh Steinberg, said that Jones discussed a $3.5 million-a-year package. Jones said Wednesday that he talked with "a consultant" for the Maryland search and had decided to remain at SMU, which pays him a reported $2 million annually.
When the reported $3.5 million package was broached with Richter on Wednesday, he said, "To my knowledge, I think it's inflated. As far as I know -- and I haven't been that close to it the past couple of days -- that's high. Quite high."
Richter said that from what he has been told, Maryland is expecting to pay around the same $2 million annual package for its new coach that Friedgen was making. If Maryland was offering $3.5 million, as Steinberg claimed, then Malzahn might not be the only coach trying to get an interview.
"If that was the case, I expect to get a lot of calls," Richter said.
At least one athletic director whose football coach has been mentioned as a possible candidate said Wednesday that he has not heard from Anderson or anyone else representing Maryland seeking permission for an inteview.
New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs said in a telephone interview from Albuquerque that not all schools ask for permission.
Krebs would not comment on Mike Locksley's candidacy, but most consider him a longshot -- at best. A highly successful recruiter at Maryland and later at Illinois, Locksley has had a tumultuous two years at New Mexico. The Lobos have lost 22 of 24 games and Locksley was suspended without pay for 10 days during the 2009 season for punching one of his assistant coaches.
"The accepted protocal is that at some point you have contact from the AD," Krebs said.
Efforts to reach Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Leach also did not respond to text message or calls to his cell phone. Friedgen had a word of caution for whoever would follow him as Maryland's coach.
"I think there's a lot of things that really have to change to help [Maryland] reach its potential, and to be honest with you, I don't know if the university is willing to do that," Friedgen said without a trace of emotion or anger. "You have to know that going in. I did, and I think that was a benefit to me. I think what happens to a lot of coaches that come to Maryland, they think it's like any other place and then after their third year they realize it isn't and then they're stuck. It's tough to sustain.
Just go back and look at the history."