Maryland's Yow gives Friedgen another chance to protect his house
About two years ago, during another tumultuous moment of the Fridge era, I asked Ralph Friedgen about a widely held perception: That in College Park, the football coach and the athletic director were believed to be tethered at the hip.
"Debbie and me, tethered at the hip?" Friedgen replied, deadpan. "That's quite a visual, isn't it?"
Debbie Yow inherited Gary Williams. But Friedgen was her first signature hire at Maryland. Bringing Friedgen back to his alma mater to resuscitate a slumping program 10 years ago was the first big, stick-your-neck-out move for Yow, a risk instantly rewarded by a Bowl Championship Series berth and 10-win seasons but now tested by the first 10-loss season in school history.
When all the public posturing was said and done, she stuck her neck out again and made the right decision early Tuesday morning. By retaining her former bread-winner -- by basically telling Friedgen, "Seven wins or else" -- the athletic director began the process of re-cementing a relationship that had become fractured almost beyond repair.
Friedgen's biggest supporter over the years certainly is feeling the heat today, her inbox no doubt filled with vitriol and financial details about how much money certain boosters have donated to Terp Nation and how the university is going to have to look for those funds elsewhere because she brought Ralph's tired old bones back.
Those e-mails probably all begin like this: "Hey Debbie, Notre Dame paid Charlie Weis to go away, Virginia told Al Groh to get lost and Florida State told Bobby Bowden to take his gold watch or else. And you can't get rid of Ralph? You can't pony up $4 million to buy his contract out?"
And, if she's honest, she will reply: "No, I can't. Not now."
Let's be clear: This was mostly about money -- or the lack of it.
The moment Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley frowned upon state funds being used to possibly buy out Friedgen's contract, the Fridge was very likely granted a stay of execution. Irrespective of whether the tide had turned against Friedgen at the highest levels of the university, if a very disenchanted booster wasn't going to sign that check, the cash wasn't going to be there.
Yow had to know that, and she acted appropriately.
Some angry souls will say sentimentality got in the way of sound decision-making, the sweet nostalgia of those first three seasons that produced 31 wins, of bowl representatives in orange blazers visiting the Byrd Stadium press box to scout, yes, the home team.
Or even the grand sight of a burly coach billowing into American living rooms and shouting, "We must protect this house!" -- launching not just a national ad campaign for a new player in the athletic-apparel market but affirming that Maryland football had indeed arrived.