Embattled Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen remains focused on next game

By Eric Prisbell and Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 23, 2009

Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said Sunday that he will remain focused on Saturday's season finale against Boston College, even as people who have been briefed on his contract status say that he may be preparing to coach his final game at his alma mater.

When asked whether he expects to return next year, Friedgen said: "I don't even want to get into that. I want to keep the focus on Boston College right now."

Friedgen is in the midst of his worst season as Maryland's head football coach, with the Terrapins' record at 2-9 (1-6 ACC).

Although he has two years remaining on his contract, Friedgen's future is in doubt because Maryland is now in position financially to fire him, according to those briefed on his contact status, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

If he is fired, the school would have to buy out the remainder of Friedgen's contract, which amounts to more than $4 million. Those familiar with the situation said this would not prevent Maryland from making a change, and one person said at least some of the money could come in the form of a loan from the school's endowment to the athletic department.

For Friedgen, 62, to keep his job he is expected to have to make a strong argument in a postseason meeting with school officials regarding his vision for getting the football program back on course, the sources said. They said he may need to make multiple staff changes to retain his position.

Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow has reiterated on multiple occasions that Friedgen, like all coaches, will be evaluated at season's end. Jack Reale, Friedgen's attorney, said Saturday that neither Friedgen nor he has been approached by school officials about a buyout.

After posting a 31-8 record during his first three seasons, Friedgen has struggled to find consistent success in recent years. While his team has reached six bowl games in his nine-year tenure, Friedgen has secured his fourth losing season in the past six years.

People familiar with the situation portrayed a growing divide between Friedgen and school officials. They say school officials are concerned about the financial repercussions of a struggling football team that has not finished the season in the top 25 since 2003. Season ticket sales have declined the past five seasons, and this season's ticket sales projection missed by $600,000, a school official said.

Friedgen, according to someone who has been briefed on the financial details of his contract, believes Yow's silence about Friedgen's future has undermined his ability to move the program forward through a difficult season.

"The lack of endorsement was deafening," this person said. "The silence was deafening."

Additionally, the source said that while Friedgen publicly endorsed the move to formally name offensive coordinator James Franklin the coach-in-waiting in February, Friedgen privately resented it because he had concerns about the move negatively affecting other coaches on the staff and how they viewed the hierarchy within the program. School officials have said they made the move because neither they nor Friedgen believed they could afford to lose Franklin, who had been pursued by NFL and college teams.

If Friedgen is not retained, sources said discussions would then need to occur between school officials and Franklin. Those discussions would involve the team's struggles this season, and goals that Franklin has for staffing and recruiting. One source said that the fates of Friedgen and Franklin are tied because both are responsible for the team's recent struggles.

Franklin is guaranteed $1 million if he is not named head coach following the 2011 season. If Franklin is named head coach, he is contractually guaranteed a five-year contract and a compensation package no less than the average of that of the ACC football coaches.

The unsettled coaching situation will remain an issue throughout the final days of what has been the most trying season of Friedgen's tenure. This year's team, hampered by injuries and inexperience, has been one of Friedgen's favorites because players maintain a strong work ethic.

"To me, the effort my kids gave yesterday, I could not have been prouder of them," Friedgen said about the 29-26 loss at Florida State on Saturday. "Not many 2-8 teams go in to play Florida State, and we really should have won the football game. I am just appreciative and proud of them. That's not going to change."

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