Ralph Friedgen says he enjoys the motivation afforded by job scrutiny
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen pulled out a chair at his assigned table Monday at the second of two ACC media days and then paused. He shuffled to his right and then shuffled some more.
“Let me get my back to the wall,” the embattled coach said with a grin.
Finally, having arrived at the opposite end of the circle from which he began, Friedgen took a seat. After enduring a 2-10 campaign in 2009 in which his job security came under intense scrutiny, Friedgen can be forgiven for being a little extra cautious.
Even though his former boss, Debbie Yow – the one who attempted to raise enough money to buy him out of his contract last fall – has since moved on to be athletic director at another school, Friedgen’s status remains the most prominent issue surrounding the program entering the season.
“I think our coaching staff feels it,” Friedgen said. “I don’t think it’s something we talk about daily, but they know the score. I kind of like it like that, myself. I kind of enjoy that type of motivation, so to speak. It is what it is. I think we’re kind of back to where we were when I got there. When I came to Maryland, I was 32 years as an assistant coach, 53 years old, came to a program that went to one bowl in 18 years. And we did some pretty good things. And now we’ve kind of come full circle.
“But we’ve got a young team, and I liked the team last year when they were 2-10, so I’m going to even like them more this year because I know what this team can turn into. I’m hoping we can do it this year because I think the following year we’ve got a chance to be a very, very good team.”
The lingering question that will hang over the Terrapins like an ominous cloud for much – if not all – of the coming season is: Will Friedgen be around to lead the team in 2011, the one he believes possesses such immense potential?
To answer that question, several well-publicized factors must be taken into consideration. For starters, Maryland currently is in the final stages of naming a new university president to replace C.D. Mote, who is retiring effective Aug. 31. Chancellor William E. Kirwan has said he expects to name a new president by the middle of August.
That new president then will be charged with picking a new athletic director. A 17-member search committee was assembled to begin the process, but the new president’s opinion will weigh heavily on the final decision. Friedgen was not among the four coaches named to the search committee, and he didn’t provide any public sentiment that he was bitter over being left out.
“Probably relief because I’ve got to focus on winning games, you know what I’m saying?” Friedgen said when asked for his reaction to being left off the search committee. “And to be really honest with you, I think getting the president is going to be a big influence on hiring the AD. And until we get a president, who are we going to get to want to be the AD until he knows who his boss is? To go to all those meetings and take me away from what I need to do right now, and I really think Dr. Mote probably understood that. That’s probably why he made that decision.”
Friedgen declined to reveal what advice he would give the new athletic director about ways in which the department’s administration could support the pursuit of his goals for the football program. He said “the critical issue” is who is named the next university president.
“I think we have to get a president who understands the importance of revenue sports and what they can do for the university, as far as enrollment and as far as getting the exposure,” Friedgen said. “When we went to the Orange Bowl and when Gary won the national championship in basketball, I think applications were at an all-time high at Maryland. And we’re being very, very selective now. So I think it goes hand in hand. I’m hoping we can get a president that understands the importance of that.”
Despite his team’s dismal performance last season, Friedgen said he’s been well received both at alumni functions and on the recruiting trail this summer. However, he did note that his recruiting counterparts have been using the large degree of uncertainty that exists among Maryland’s leadership against him.
“A lot of these other coaches are banging us pretty good on that,” Friedgen said. “One of the things they’re saying is the athletic director’s changing and the president, and my response to them is, ‘You know who the next coach at Maryland is going to be whether it’s 10 years from now or two years from now.’ You don’t know that at these other schools. So one of the reasons I agreed to the coach-in-waiting was that my staff would know and our recruits would know who the next coach was going to be, so it would be a smooth transition. And when the coach-in-waiting was explained to me, it was as long as we were doing well, I could be the coach as long as I wanted to be.”
Offensive Coordinator James Franklin was named Maryland’s coach-in-waiting in 2009. His contract states that he must be paid $1 million if he is not named the school’s next head coach. If Friedgen remains as Maryland's head coach following the 2011 season, Franklin has two choices. He can either leave the program and be paid $1 million to do so, or he can remain on staff as the team's coach-in-waiting. If he were to elect to remain the coach-in-waiting, he still would have to be paid $1 million if he was not eventually named head coach following Friedgen's departure.
“The million dollars that we were to pay James was really to make him whole for what he could have made with a three-year contract to go to Tampa Bay” of the National Football League, Friedgen said. “So really it was, even if we pay him that money, he would still be the coach in waiting. I don’t think a lot of people quite understand that, you know what I’m saying? He did us a favor, because we really didn’t have the money at that time to pay him that. And by staying with us, he helped us have some continuity. I think this is where he wants to be, and I think we’re pretty much together philosophically, and so I think it will help with a smooth transition. But if I’m enjoying myself and we’re doing well, I’m planning on being at Maryland. We’ll have to see what the new AD and the new president want.”
Friedgen said “going to bowl games and winning them” were his standards of quality performance for his program. He also said he’d like for the Terrapins to return to being a mainstay in the top 25 and that “I think we’re building towards that.”
“My feeling is – and maybe I’m wrong on this – but I think if we do well the next two years, I think regardless of who it is, I have good enough support from our alumni that they’ll want me as coach,” Friedgen said. “And if they don’t, then I’ll go somewhere else. But I don’t think that will happen.”
July 26, 2010; 7:45 PM ET
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