By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2009
The University of Maryland yesterday named assistant head coach-offensive coordinator James Franklin as the eventual successor to football coach Ralph Friedgen, who expects to at least finish out the remaining three seasons on his contract.
Franklin, 37, said he had "always dreamed of this opportunity" and that when Friedgen retires, Franklin would like to be able to "retire here and be one of the winningest coaches in the history of college football."
A high-energy coach lauded for his recruiting, Franklin worked as a Maryland assistant from 2000 to 2004 before returning to the program last season. Upon Franklin's return to College Park, Athletic Director Debbie Yow and Friedgen began discussing with Franklin the possibility of being named coach-in-waiting, although no formal agreement had been made.
The school made the announcement yesterday to preserve continuity in recruiting. Friedgen, 61, said opposing schools are using his age against him in recruiting by suggesting to prospects that he is on the verge of retirement.
"Continuity in recruiting, can't say that loudly enough," Yow said. "On balance, I think this is a [smart] route for Maryland football to secure its future."
Franklin also recently received a coaching offer from a team in the NFL, and school officials were concerned he might accept it. Yow said Maryland was not "going to stand by and let a professional team take him away at this point."
Friedgen, who is 64-36 in eight seasons at his alma mater, offered no timetable on his retirement but said "it is getting to that point where people are going to be questioning how long I am going to be coaching. Whether it is three years or five years from now, we will have a guy in place that is going to take over, and I think that is going to help the stability of the program."
Addressing rumors about his health, Friedgen said that he has never felt better and that he has been on a "health kick since October." Yow said the announcement had nothing to do with Friedgen's health, and she left open the possibility of a contract extension for Friedgen.
Yow added that Franklin would be free to leave if Friedgen was given an extension beyond Jan. 2, 2012, when his current contract expires. Terms of Franklin's contract were not released.
Several college football teams, including Wisconsin, Oregon, Kentucky, Purdue and Texas, have named coaches-in-waiting in recent years. In the ACC, Florida State has offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher under contract to succeed Coach Bobby Bowden.
"We are not unique and we are not the first," Yow said. "It is a good common-sense move."
When he takes over, Franklin will join what is currently a small group of black head coaches. There is only one black head coach at a BCS conference school -- Miami's Randy Shannon -- and seven black head coaches in division I-A.
"I hope we get to the point where this is no longer an issue," Franklin said. "I don't underappreciate the magnitude of this as well."
Before returning to Maryland, Franklin spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State and one season with the Green Bay Packers, where he worked with wide receivers and quarterback Brett Favre. Franklin was named one of the nation's top 25 recruiters this season by Rivals.com, a distinction he also earned during his previous stint at Maryland.
Franklin believes having a coach-in-waiting will help build trust with recruits and their families during home visits.
"I think it makes a big difference, because trust is just so important," Franklin said, "With the turnover you have in college football now, there are only a few programs that have a lot of stability on their staff. This will help. When you are in that home, having those discussions, they know that we have a plan for the future."
Yow added that she was committed to ensuring that Maryland loses no ground in recruiting or staff continuity, adding that "Coach Friedgen has already established a foundation these last eight years, and that foundation is going to be protected."
But Friedgen is not ready to step aside just yet. When Yow was working on Franklin's contract last week, Friedgen called her and Yow answered, "James?"
"No," Friedgen said. "Not yet."