By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
The first week of the Maryland football team's offseason began with former starting quarterback Joel Statham thinking about transferring, leading receiver Vernon Davis thinking about the NFL and Coach Ralph Friedgen thinking about how to replace retired defensive coordinator Gary Blackney.
While eight other ACC teams are making bowl plans, the Terps are dealing with possible changes on several fronts. The team finished its second consecutive 5-6 season Saturday with a loss at N.C. State; among ACC schools, only Duke, Wake Forest and Maryland have had consecutive losing seasons.
Friedgen said yesterday that Statham was considering transferring, probably to a Division I-AA school, and that "if that's something that he wanted to do, I would help him." Statham, a Georgia native who has one year of remaining eligibility, declined to comment when reached on his cell phone yesterday. Statham's father Mark had also declined to comment Sunday night on the possibility of his son transferring.
Bill Napier, Statham's high school coach, said that Statham had not made a decision yet. Napier has already called some Division I-AA schools on the family's behalf, and said that if Statham decides to leave "it would be a recruiting-type battle for him. There's a lot of interest."
Statham started 10 games as a sophomore before losing his job to current starter Sam Hollenbach. The Terps went 4-6 in those games, as Statham threw eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He was the team's number two quarterback this year and started during a loss at Florida State, when Hollenbach was out with a shoulder injury.
Davis, meantime, submitted paperwork to the NFL's draft advisory board yesterday, requesting an evaluation of his draft prospects. Friedgen said he was in the process of calling NFL personnel officials to seek further guidance; he has previously said that if Davis would be selected in the first round of April's draft, he should probably depart College Park.
After Saturday's loss, Davis said he was "kind of neutral" and hoped to make a decision within the next two to three weeks. He also said he considered the possibility that it was his final outing as a Terp.
"I just started thinking back," said Davis, who led Maryland with 51 receptions, 871 receiving yards and 6 touchdown catches. "First, it seems like the season is going by slow, the years are going by slow, but then as time goes by, then you look back and you're like, 'Gosh, it went kind of fast.' Time does fly."
Blackney, the only defensive coordinator in Friedgen's five-year tenure at Maryland, retired after Saturday's loss, although the decision had been in the works for weeks. Friedgen said the 60-year-old Blackney was retiring to enjoy himself and spend more time with his family, including his wife Lauretta -- who suffered a brain aneurysm in 1986 -- their four children and four grandchildren. Blackney has coached since 1968, spending 10 years as a head coach at Bowling Green before arriving in College Park. He declined to speak to the media yesterday but released a statement saying, "I see this as a time to start another phase of my life, a time to focus on my family."
Friedgen said Blackney considered retiring last year and revisited the subject after Maryland's loss to Virginia Tech in October, and that he "definitely, definitely" would have been welcomed back for another season. He also said Blackney could remain in football, possibly as an NFL scout.
"He loves game day and he loves the preparation, but these are long hours we're working and I just think that he wants to enjoy some of his life, which I can see how he would feel that way," Friedgen said. "I can't say that thought hasn't crossed my mind once or twice. . . . I let him do his thing and I had tremendous confidence in him, and I thought the unity that he brought to the staff and to the defensive unit was unparalleled. He just made my job a little bit harder right now."
Friedgen said the search for Blackney's successor would begin as soon as possible, and would include both internal and external candidates, whom he declined to identify. Blackney, who also served as the team's defensive backs coach, employed a 3-4 alignment, with a hybrid defensive end-linebacker position. Friedgen said the team could also use a 4-3 alignment in the future, and that he hoped to find a coordinator who would base his scheme around the team's personnel.
Before Blackney's retirement was announced late Saturday, Friedgen said he did not anticipate any offseason staff changes. Asked yesterday whether additional changes could be forthcoming, he said, "I don't know that." Asked specifically if there was a possibility offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe would not be back , Friedgen said: "I don't know that. . . . Charlie wants to be a head coach and I want that for my assistants. If that's what he wants to do, I'll help him any way I can."
Taaffe did not return a telephone message.
Friedgen said guard Donnie Woods and running back Keon Lattimore would have offseason shoulder surgery, and that Hollenbach had not yet decided whether to have surgery to repair the torn ligaments in his left shoulder.
While Friedgen acknowledged that the losing record would not help his recruiting efforts, he said he remained optimistic.
"Am I disappointed? Yeah. Am I discouraged? No," he said. "I think that sums it up best. We've just got to go back to work."