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Maryland's Big Problem: The Future

If this season continues along its current path, coverage will increasingly look at the direction of the program and issues it faces in the long-term. And the breakdown of each game will matter less and less if the season continues to unravel.

Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow is in a tough spot. She had this plan to have Ralph Friedgen, the man who built this program earlier this decade, coach two more seasons and then after the 2011 season hand the keys to James Franklin, who came highly recommended.

One problem: The team has been mediocre in recent years and it promises to be less than mediocre this season. Maryland appears on its way to its fourth losing season in the past six years and perhaps the worst season of Friedgen’s nine-year tenure. Fans are taking notice.

Season ticket sales have steadily declined the past five years, attendance is down and 23 luxury suites are still without long-term commitments. Also, belief in Ralph among fans seems to be at an all-time low. I would estimate, based on polls and interviews, that two thirds of the fans want this to be Ralph’s final season. Even more troubling for Maryland, the fans don’t seem particularly enamored with Franklin, who has cited his own poor play-calling for one loss this season. For Maryland, this is rock bottom under Friedgen.

But Ralph still has two more years left on his contract, and if anyone wants this season to be his finale, well, that means forking over more than $4 million. In this economy especially, that’s a lot to ask. And then there is Franklin, who is owed $1 million if he does not become head coach after the 2011 season.

How does Maryland solve this? One way is to win. But with each game, that appears less and less likely. And even a lower-tier bowl like the EagleBank Bowl looks like a long-shot scenario. Another possibility is for Friedgen to retire, but I can't see him walking away after a season like this -- just not in his nature.

The other thing: What’s a reasonable expectation for this program? No one expects Maryland to be a mid-Atlantic version of Florida or Southern California, and this program does not have the cache to lure the hot name of the day, like a Brian Kelly, etc., to be head coach. But from my experience, most fans believe Maryland should consistently reach a bowl game and on occasion challenge for the championship in a conference that has looked less than elite in recent years. That seems like a reasonable goal.

If anyone has questions they would like me to ask coaches – I can’t guarantee I can get to them all – or would like us to tackle a specific issue in a future story, I encourage you to post it in the comments section or email me at prisbelle@washpost.com.

Thanks.

By Eric Prisbell  |  September 28, 2009; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  Football  
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Next: Maryland-Wake Forest at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN 360

Comments

"I would estimate, based on polls and interviews, that two thirds of the fans want this to be Ralph’s final season."

Did you actually go to journalism school?

Obviously fans aren't happy right now but that's no reason to make up this crap.

You pulled the same crap last year with Gary. You were wrong but who cares or remembers right?

Posted by: UnitedWeStand | September 28, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

"I would estimate, based on polls and interviews, that two thirds of the fans want this to be Ralph’s final season."

Did you actually go to journalism school?

Obviously fans aren't happy right now but that's no reason to make up this stuff.

You pulled the same stuff last year with Gary. You were wrong but who cares or remembers right?

Posted by: UnitedWeStand | September 28, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

No, sir, you are wrong.

I never said that about Gary. I always felt and said it was close to 50-50. He never had the fans turn on him like they are turning on Ralph. Please go back and read the 12,000-word three-part series on Gary. He lost recruits because he would not cheat.

You are off base and wrong. But I respect your opinion.

Posted by: Eric Prisbell | September 28, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I just wanna say that it's getting harder and harder to justify the money we spend on our Terp Club donation and tickets each year. That is a major sentiment amongst fans I have spoken to recently.

You think it's bad now? It could get worse over the next couple years if one of the young QB's doesn't pan out, and we don't find an O-Line.

23 unsold suites could turn into 40 or more, and 23k season tickets could turn into 15k or less. It's like we're in a time machine heading back to the 90's. Except the program has much higher revenue needs, especially with the new tower. We could be heading for bankruptcy...

Posted by: sargeantmofo | September 28, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I don't know if I can get on board with the 2/3's estimate, but it might not be that far off.

However, I'd say that a lot of the clamoring for Ralph to lead is from a vocal group (potentially a vocal minority). Whereas people who like Ralph, or at least don't want him to leave, aren't going to be writing in all caps on message boards.

Hard to take an accurate guess.

Posted by: ckstevenson | September 28, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Look....I'm not going to make excuses for Ralph. However, I feel alot of the failures so far this season are the result of a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.

Your best D Lineman quits.
Your star RB has developed a fumbling problem.
Two of your O Lineman are hurt.
Your star WR leaves school a year early.

Anyone who knows football knows that the game is won in the trenches. When your D Line and O Line struggle, you just arent going to win games....plain and simple. Some blame goes to Ralph and the staff for not recruiting more depth along the lines. Sometimes your team just has a down year. It happens. Let's not call for Ralph's head quite yet.

A reasonable expectation for this team is 8-9 wins most years...but not ever year. Some years there will be more, some years there will be less.

Ralph will not be bought out. Ralph will not resign. He will finish out his contract and we will thank him for doing so. Not once has he had a year like this so cut him some slack. You've cheered for the program he helped build and you've cheered his play-calling and approach for years and now are questioning the manner in which he provides it at the first sign of struggle. It's a shame loyalty is so scarce.

Posted by: fushezzi | September 28, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

That's a good point. Ralph has not had anything worse than a five-win season, and this team is one of the nation's youngest teams. But it is interesting to see how quickly fans jump off the bandwagon.

Posted by: Eric Prisbell | September 28, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I am a long time Terp. While supporting the team for more than 40 years I have been a much bigger supporter ($$$) in the last decade due to Ralph energizing a moribund program, and my own financial capacity. However, I am like many other Terp Club members that have major concerns about the direction of the program now. We have a fan base that is fickle for sure. But with justification. We have been up (Tatum, Clairborne, Ross and Friedgen) and we have been down (fill in the blanks with the multitude of names). We have not had a consistent program. Except that we have been inconsistent. Part of the problem may be that we require more academically of our student athletes that other schools. Part may be the competition from professional programs all around us. But the results are the results. I believe we can and should compete at a higher level than we have lately, and we should be far better than we were in the 90's. Ralph has turned seasons around before, perhaps he can do it again. The prospects do not look that good, but I say wait out the entire season before coming to a judgement. It is hard sitting in stands as we have for the last four weeks and watch one debacle after another. There is talent on this team whether some of us want to recognize it or not. We just don’t know if there is enough talent to win more games. If there isn’t and the season turns out as bad as it appears it can I would respectfully ask Ralph to voluntarily step down. He once said that he was not a loser and he would pay the University $1MM if he quit. I wouldn’t ask him for the bucks but would ask him to go with thanks for what he has done for his Alma Mater.. On his successor - I would keep a short leash since his play calling has seemed to be less than expected.

Posted by: JoeR123 | September 28, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

he other thing: What’s a reasonable expectation for this program? No one expects Maryland to be a mid-Atlantic version of Florida or Southern California, and this program does not have the cache to lure the hot name of the day, like a Brian Kelly, etc., to be head coach. But from my experience, most fans believe Maryland should consistently reach a bowl game and on occasion challenge for the championship in a conference that has looked less than elite in recent years. That seems like a reasonable goal.

By Eric Prisbell | September 28, 2009; 10:20 AM ET

I don't think there should be much stopping Maryland from having the success that a school like Boston College has in football. They compete for conference titles and overachieve when you consider their recruiting disadvantages and small, pro sports city fanbase.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 28, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Obviously fans aren't happy right now but that's no reason to make up this crap.

Posted by: UnitedWeStand | September 28, 2009 10:43 AM

Sure, it's only an Internet vote, but the data is right here...

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/terrapins-insider/2009/09/poll_still_support_fridge.html

Christ - not everything is a conspiracy when it comes to the Washington Post sports section.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 28, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

That's a good point. Ralph has not had anything worse than a five-win season, and this team is one of the nation's youngest teams. But it is interesting to see how quickly fans jump off the bandwagon.

Posted by: Eric Prisbell | September 28, 2009 11:50 AM

-------

how quickly fans jump off the bandwagon? we've been stewing in mediocrity for the last 5 (now 6) seasons. we keep thinking we'll be better the next season and contend for the ACC title.

the problem is, when we've had that goal within our grasp two of the last three seasons, we have fallen flat on our faces. what's the excuse for that?

sure we're young this season, but who's fault is that? try staggering your classes a bit better, and retain and improve the players you have. AND, try beating up on the patsies on your schedule and get your 2nd and 3rd string into the game to get some experience!

good lord, the excuses just keep piling up. for this fan, 6 years of excuses is getting old. I don't want excuses anymore, I want wins. and since Fridge's first three years with another guy's players, Fridge hasn't delivered too well.

Posted by: sargeantmofo | September 28, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

An honest question for those out there that know more about Fridge's recruiting than I do. Has the Terps coaching staff neglected OL and DL recruitment because of an obsession with speed? I remember the blowout at the Orange Bowl in '02 and the clear lack of speed (especially in the secondary) Friedgen inherited. In Friedgen's actual classes, the speed has improved (Heyward-Bey, DB's in the NFL, etc), but it seems odd for a coach that played o-line at MD to not have a solid group in the trenches.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 28, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

"That's a good point. Ralph has not had anything worse than a five-win season, and this team is one of the nation's youngest teams. But it is interesting to see how quickly fans jump off the bandwagon.

Posted by: Eric Prisbell | September 28, 2009 11:50 AM "


A talented team that is "young" shows far more promise than this team has shown thus far. You see glimmers, glimpses of their potential. I've seen all their games thus far, and I feel confident when I say I haven't seen anything close to future potential.

Show me two future NFL players on this roster. Show me All-American candidates. Show me All-ACC candidates. I haven't seen them yet, and the season is 1/3 over.

Posted by: kingrob76 | September 28, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the o-line and D-line are tehe two most critical recruiting areas which this year's team seems to be weak.

Look at the number of o-line players in the pros at the moment from the program. Not nearly as many d-line players but quite a few LBs. It is startling how quickly the well seems to have run dry.

Posted by: HughGRection | September 28, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

The well at MD has run dry as we've been raided by Illinois and Penn State the last few years for a number of recruits we targeted. Franklin was brought back to fix that. We'll see how the next class or two looks..

Posted by: restonhoops | September 28, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

think Fridge needs to regain the 105 lbs, that will take the terps at least back to being respectable.

Now, if he were to gain 50 lbs on top of that I think we could be looking at ACC championship potential. Everyone has greater respect for someone who is comfortable with their figure rather than someone who obviously desires to be different than what they are. Embrace your true self and the success shall follow!

Also, bench Turner I can't see any light at the end of the tunnel with a QB who has basically a career 1:1 td:int ratio. Does Steffy have any eligibility left?

Posted by: blinders1 | September 28, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Show me two future NFL players on this roster.

Posted by: kingrob76 | September 28, 2009 4:04 PM

We do have talent and we do have future NFL players on the roster. These guys all have the potential to earn an NFL paycheck one day: Campbell, Tate, Wujciak, Baltz, Scott, Costa.

It's not the talent. It's the youth. And the lack of a quality defensive coordinator.

Posted by: Barno1 | September 28, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

"Show me two future NFL players on this roster. Show me All-American candidates. Show me All-ACC candidates. I haven't seen them yet, and the season is 1/3 over."

Okay... Kenny Tate and Torrey Smith, almost without question will play in the NFL.

Posted by: jrchris | September 28, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I think this Maryland team has some future NFL players on the roster, but most of the teams always do. The problem is that this doesn't necessarily correlate to a successful season in NCAA football. There is talent on this football team, but talent becomes irrelevant if the team isn't winning. I still firmly believe that the recruiting needs to improve.

Another question: who is the leader on this football team? I have not seen one emerge.

Posted by: SirPelleas | September 28, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Eric,
I disagree with your assessment that 2/3's of the fans want Friedgen out. The only people who comment on this board are the most intense fans. I believe a large majority understand what Friedgen has done for this program and are more loyal than you give them credit for. Just as last year, when the media was going nuts about Gary, the vast majority of my friends and family supported Gary and were prepared to raise hell if they even thought about firing him. There is a large appreciation for what The Fridge has done for UMd football. For the people that want him gone: Fridge has never had a down year. Mediocre years, yes. But if you look at every ACC teams records over the past 10 years, every single one of them has had a down year. Cut the man some slack!

Posted by: aviscardo | September 29, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Amen. I too know a lot of MD football fans and the overwhelming majority still support Fridge. Was at the game with a couple dozen people last week and did not hear a single comment about needing a new coach. Eric has promised to post the same poll after MD's biggest win this year, whenever that may be, to see what the results will be then. Only fair since he posted the poll after our worst loss.

Posted by: Barno1 | September 29, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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