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Posted at 10:47 AM ET, 12/21/2010

Foolishness in College Park

By Rick Nelligan

After years of waiting, Terrapin Nation has finally received what it had been craving: national recognition for the football program. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near the kind of recognition that it coveted. It came at the expense of Ralph Friedgen, one of Maryland’s proudest alums.

On Monday, following a weekend rampant with rumors, it was officially announced by athletic director Kevin Anderson that Friedgen was being fired and bought out to the tune of $2 million. While I can understand why it had come to this, I don’t agree with it. The decision has left an indelible black eye on the Terrapin football program and athletic department alike.

I have heard the argument for the buyout of Coach Friedgen’s contract. Without an extension, it left Friedgen as a lame duck coach which would undoubtedly hurt recruiting and the search for a new offensive coordinator. I can’t argue with that. However, there is still a subject or two with which I take issue.

I am very concerned with the way the events transpired. After leading the Terps to an unexpected and exhilarating resurgence this season, Anderson did the right thing and issued a public statement claiming that Coach Friedgen was safe. A month later, he has reneged on his comments. Just because offensive coordinator James Franklin (who not many wanted anyway) left, one of the greatest football coaches in Maryland history became expendable.

Not only did Friedgen deserve to stay, I believe that Friedgen earned a contract extension. He proved that he absolutely still has the talent to coach football and lead a group of men to greatness by improving the Terps’ win total by six (possibly seven) games. A knocked down pass (late against Miami) or a completed pass (on fourth down against Florida State) and we’re talking about a possible ACC champion coach with a very young team - not to mention a completely different situation.

Perhaps the thing I’m most troubled with is how many comments and posts I’ve read from the fans that seem to be happy with Friedgen’s firing and can’t wait to replace him. Six weeks ago in a post on Coach Friedgen, I posed this question: "Just how many of you would care about Maryland football if not for Ralph Friedgen?" In the fourteen seasons prior to Friedgen’s tenure, the Terps went 55-98-2. Since Friedgen was hired in 2001, he has led the Terps to a 74-50 record. I’d bet a good 60-70 percent of you who have been calling for his head are the same ones who became fans during the “Fridge’s” tenure.

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said it best: “This shouldn’t be about who the next guy is. This should be about what they’re doing to Ralph. 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.”

Friedgen built Maryland football as we know it today, to something that people actually care about. That should not be taken lightly. The man we affectionately know as “Fridge” deserves way better than how he’s been treated over the past week. I sincerely hope that Terrapin Nation uses this as a reason to pile into RFK Stadium next week and give Coach Friedgen the send off he rightfully deserves.

Check back later in the week for my take on who the next head coach should be. Spoiler alert: when looking for your next head coach, you should probably stay away from the loony bin.

By Rick Nelligan  | December 21, 2010; 10:47 AM ET
Categories:  Rick Nelligan, Terps  | Tags:  Rick Nelligan, Terps  
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Comments

Amen Rick, I couldn't agree with you more. To all of those who are happy with the recent turn of events I say be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. I will always love the Fridge for turning around the program and staying when he had chances to leave. I would root for Maryland if a giraffe were coaching the team but I will truly miss Fridge and the class he brought to the program. He deserved much better. I guess I learned something in this though. Apparently, winning games isn't the key to getting fans to come to the games. Apparently it's pretending you are a pirate that will really pack them in. Here's to hoping Danny O'Brien doesn't leave. I think Ralph would have had Maryland in the ACC Championship game next year so that's my measuring stick for whoever takes over.

Posted by: jeffterpsfan | December 21, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Completely agree with you that this was handled poorly. But, at the same time, it happened because Anderson decided not to lie to the media. He certainly could have lied like so many other AD's around the country. This has been in the works for weeks, Friedgen wasn't blindsided by it last week. That being said, I disagree with your assertion that Friedgen had earned a contract extension. His record at MD is 74-50 (that's great) but in his first 3 years he was 31-8 that means he's only 43-42 in the last 7 years. Including only 3 winning seasons since 2003. How does one 8-4 season after a 2-10 season earn an extension? This program has been mired in complete and total mediocrity since the end of the 2003 season. Combine that with the pathetic attendance and a change had to be made now. This program needs a leader who has the skill and, just as importantly, the personality to lead us to new heights. Is it guaranteed that will happen? Certainly not, but making hard decisions in the interest of achieving greatness is nothing to complain about.

Posted by: terpfan34 | December 21, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I agree that this was handled poorly. I also agree coach Friedgen has done a good job other than filling Byrd Stadium. The point that is incorrect is the relevance of the football program. I am a Terp Club member and season ticket holder. I attend almost every game. The problem is others do not. My understanding is that only about 17,000 non discounted season tickets were sold this season. I know there are all kinds of steeply discounted family packs. Other than the NC State and Florida State games the place was less than half full. the student sections were not close to full and the upper deck was a ghost town at these other games.

Right or wrong a big part of being a coach at this level is selling tickets. An improved out of conference schedule would probably help. A big name coach also should help. I have a son at South Carolina and I assure you Steve Spurrier fills the 80,000+ capacity stadium there. My understanding is their compensation packages are close We should all be so lucky to receive $2,000,000 on the way out the door of our job.

Posted by: hmd59 | December 21, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

hmd59:
I live in S.C now and you're right, South Carolina's stadium is packed every home game. But guess what: it was packed when Holtz had them 0-11 in '99. The fan base in the south is 100 TIMES different than the fan base in the north. College football is a religion in the south; in Maryland, college football is just college football. South Carolina and Clemson could go 4-8 every year and the fans will flock to the stadiums, because they are TRUE FANS. The people in Maryland want to blame Fridge for the seats being empty; it's not his job to go beg the fans to come to the games. If I'm not mistaken, isn't that the AD's job? Plus, if the fans in Maryland really cared about their college football team, they would show up EVERY week, no matter who they play. I agree, if the Terps hire Leach, he will bring interest to the program. But guess what else will happen? Ticket prices will increase even more...stadium parking prices will go up...the cost of concessions will go up. At South Carolina, a buddy of mine has a cousin who pays $10,000 a year for a parking spot right at the stadium. Take 10 steps and he's handing his ticket off to be swiped. How many people at UMD will do that? And that $10,000 does not cover the cost of season tickets.
Hiring a big name doesn't always pan out. South Carolina hired Lou Holtz in 1999 and his career record there was 33-37. Spurrier's career record here is 44-32, with this year's 9-4 record his best so far.
Lastly, everybody seems to want Maryland to play a tougher nonconference schedule. South Carolina's nonconference opponents this year were a combined 27-21; Maryland's opponents were 28-19. The four nonconference opponents for South Carolina next year are East Carolina, Clemson, The Citadel, and Navy (who Maryland fans complain about playing). All four of those games will be home and I promise you this: all four will have attendances that are close to full capacity. And it won't just be because of who's coaching them: it'll be because the fans LOVE their football.

Posted by: ChrisinSC | December 21, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Rick is right, we will miss Coach Fridge ~ he deserved better treatment from AD. Although I agree every AD deserves to put in his own people, this should have been handled better bc AD stated earlier that Coach was safe. "Coach Fridge" here's wishing you a win at the Military Bowl and thanks for the memories.

Posted by: lwheeler8 | December 21, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

What is it with the Post? I am a Maryland alum, a long time Terrapin Club member and a long time season football ticket holder. I have watched Terp football since Jerry Claiborne was coach. Mike Wise recently scolded MD fans for not going to see the games (I sat through every home game and the game in B'more). This dip's blog post is more of the same. I sat through last season and we lost to freaking community colleges. High school teams are coached more competently. Sure Freidgen had a good season this year. But poor coaching cost us the Miami game and a chance to play in the ACC championship. I remain steadfastly convinced that Friedgen needed to go. No it was pretty, but after losing Franklin, the program had to act fast - shame on Fridge for not being on the team and acting more graceful in what was clearly his time to go. His public statement that he intended to coach his current team until they graduated was grandstanding of the first order. He had three great seasons followed by years of disappointment. Maryland should be a top 25 program. It's time for another coach to get the chance to get us there.

Posted by: BethesdaResident | December 21, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

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