Terps may have saved Ralph Friedgen's job, if Maryland fans care to notice
College football seasons seem to fly by in instants. One minute teams are sweating in the August heat; seemingly the next, they are wondering about wind chill factors.
Eight weeks ago, on a warm Labor Day afternoon in Baltimore, the Maryland football team ran through the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium surrounded by questions. After a horrific 2-10 season put Coach Ralph Friedgen's future in serious jeopardy last fall, Terrapins football fans (a rapidly dwindling number, it seems) wondered if Friedgen would still be the coach at his alma mater when the snow began flying this winter.
That question seems to have been answered: Friedgen isn't going anywhere. His team is 6-2 and has achieved bowl eligibility. Maryland is actually contending in the ACC's Atlantic Division, which may not be the same as contending in the SEC West or the Big 12 South but is nonetheless a step forward.
The Terrapins began their season with little clue about how much better they would be. They won that Labor Day game against Navy, 17-14, despite giving up 485 yards. Since then, their improvement has been steady though not spectacular. Navy is still the only team with a winning record that Maryland has beaten. The other five victims - Morgan State (a truly bad division I-AA team), Florida International, Duke, Boston College and Wake Forest - are a combined 13-26. West Virginia and Clemson, the teams the Terrapins have lost to, haven't exactly been world-beaters - they're a combined 9-7.
For this group of players and coaches, though, none of that matters. After humiliating the Demon Deacons, 62-14, Maryland can focus on achieving goals almost no one thought possible when the season began.
Beginning Saturday at Miami, the last four games are hardly as intimidating as they might have appeared back in September.
Miami hasn't been that good with starting quarterback Jacory Harris, and he likely will miss the game because of a concussion and be replaced by a freshman who was supposed to redshirt until panic set in during the fourth quarter at Virginia on Saturday. Virginia, Maryland's opponent in two weeks, did upset Miami but remains in rebuilding mode under new coach Mike London. The last two opponents, Florida State and North Carolina State, are probably the class of the ACC Atlantic, but that's a little bit like being the smartest person in an empty room.
In other words, none of the Terps' final four games appears like a foregone conclusion either way. Four losses would certainly leave some people calling for Friedgen's job, but with a bowl bid secure, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson isn't going to go down that road - and he certainly won't resort to the kind of public leaks that made his predecessor, Debbie Yow, look so clumsy and insensitive last year.
In fact, the more likely scenario is Maryland at least splitting the four games and Friedgen asking Anderson for a contract extension at season's end. Friedgen will be 64 at the end of next season, and even though he hasn't said so directly, he has made it pretty clear that he has no immediate interest in retiring. That's been apparent ever since Yow anointed offensive coordinator James Franklin as the team's coach-in-waiting and guaranteed him $1 million if he wasn't the head coach for the 2012 season. Although Yow has insisted that Friedgen wanted Franklin named as his successor, Friedgen wanted to be the one who decided when he would retire, not the athletic director.
Now, if Maryland continues to play well, Friedgen may be in a position where he can dictate that decision to his new boss.
Anderson clearly doesn't want to get into the kind of ugly public dispute that Yow got into with both Friedgen and men's basketball coach Gary Williams in recent years. The best-case scenario for Anderson would be if Maryland kept winning and he was able to announce one more contract extension for Friedgen, who breathed new life into a moribund program when he succeeded Ron Vanderlinden 10 years ago.
Anderson's larger concern has to be how few people seem to be noticing. Fans aren't exactly rushing to ticket windows as if Maryland has morphed into a serious national contender. Saturday's homecoming crowd against Wake Forest on a perfect fall afternoon was less than 40,000.