By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; 12:33 AM
His name is commonly grouped with coaches under the most pressure to win this fall, his program is treated like a punching bag in the cutthroat recruiting world and his school is seeing season ticket sales drop for a fifth consecutive year.
Never before has Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen opened training camp amid a mood so ominous. When Friedgen meets reporters Tuesday - nine months removed from the first 10-loss season in school history - the implications will be clear: This season, his 10th as head coach at his alma mater, will be pivotal for the Friedgen era, and everyone in and around the program knows it.
"I think our coaching staff feels it," Friedgen said of the scrutiny. "I don't think it is 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. It is what it is."
Other division I-A head coaches - including those at Colorado, Michigan and Illinois - will face varying degrees of pressure this season, but few will encounter more than Friedgen, whose 31 victories in his first three seasons have been followed by just 35 in the past six years. Friedgen knows that last season, which included a disastrous 2-10 record, could have been his finale in College Park.
Last fall, according to multiple high-ranking Maryland donors, then-Athletic Director Debbie Yow attempted to raise funds necessary to buy out the remainder of Friedgen's contract, which runs through the 2011 season. After such funds could not be attained, and after Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley voiced disapproval with the prospect of using public funds for a buyout, Yow announced that Friedgen would return with the baseline expectation of a winning regular season record in 2010.
But Yow, whose rocky relationship with Friedgen became public last season, is gone, having taken the same position at North Car olina State in June. In the coming months, the University of Maryland will hire a new president to replace C.D. Mote Jr. who is retiring Aug. 31, as well as an athletic director. New leadership means new expectations.
Friedgen said it is critical to hire a president who understands the importance of revenue-generating sports and what their success could mean for university exposure nationwide. He also said he is not concerned about whether Yow's 2010 baseline expectation will carry over to the new athletic director because he has loftier aspirations than a 7-5 regular season record.
"If I do well in the next two years, I think I will be at Maryland," Friedgen said. "If I don't, I probably won't, so it really won't matter about the administration."
Further complicating matters is the head coach-in-waiting plan in place at Maryland, which will owe offensive coordinator James Franklin $1 million if he does not take over head coaching duties after the 2011 season.
Friedgen regularly tells prospects that, unlike situations at most schools, they already know who the next head coach at Maryland will be. The only question, Friedgen said, is whether Franklin will take over in two seasons or down the road.
Regardless, Friedgen said, opposing schools are negatively recruiting and "banging us pretty good" because of the uncertainty with the coaching situation.
Overall, though, Friedgen said he has been pleased with recruiting despite seeing a couple of prospects de-commit.
"I don't think it's the easiest situation in the world with the coach-in-waiting and all that, but I think our coaches and players and whole staff have done a very good job," Friedgen said. "If we start off well, then I think recruiting will go well. If we don't start off well, then I think we will struggle."
Despite the uncertainty entering the season, Friedgen said he has been overwhelmed by the support of many fans and well-wishers, many of whom have sent encouraging e-mails, letters and text messages. But that anecdotal evidence of support belies the numbers; season ticket sales have declined for a fifth consecutive season.
As of the first week of August, Maryland sold 18,292 season tickets for the 2010 season, which is down from 22,792 last season. The totals include strictly paid tickets sold and do not include tickets sold in suites sales and sponsor tickets.
School officials are hoping the final 2010 number will surpass 19,000 but, regardless, they expect the number to fall short of the school's projection of 20,000.
Based on feedback from Maryland fans, Chris Boyer, a senior associate athletic director at Maryland, attributed the decline to three factors: the economy, the 2-10 record last season and a weak home schedule.
"It is a perfect storm of those three factors," Boyer said.
Friedgen opted to bring back all his assistants from last season in part because of continuity. Most of the key players returned, as well. Nearly 75 percent of Maryland's offensive and defensive two-deep roster is back. The Terrapins are still young - there are just nine seniors on the two-deep roster - but not untested. And certainly not unmotivated.
"Our kids, they feel the scrutiny, too," Friedgen said. "I don't have to push that button a lot. They are very motivated to have a good football team."
firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer Steve Yanda contributed to this report.