Maryland's James Franklin close to taking Vanderbilt job

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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 10:27 PM

James Franklin, the Maryland football program's offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting, is close to becoming Vanderbilt's next head coach, according to two sources close to Franklin with knowledge of the contract negotiations.

Franklin's departure would be a significant move in what promises to be a critical winter for Maryland's football program and for first-year Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, who faces decisions about the program's future and about the coach he wants to steward the team.

It remains to be seen whether Anderson can make a last-ditch effort to entice Franklin to stay before he signs with Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt reached out to Franklin and individuals close to him Monday evening, said sources, who said the sides were expected to enter negotiations Tuesday.

Franklin, a 38-year-old high-energy, well-respected recruiter, has never been a head coach. In February 2009, he signed a deal to become Maryland's head coach-in-waiting, and he will be owed $1 million if he remains at the school and is not named head coach by January 2012.

With Franklin expected to leave, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen will receive a true indication of his job security from Anderson, who announced Nov. 18 that Friedgen would return for the final year of his contract in 2011. Anderson's decision about whether to extend Friedgen's contract - as Friedgen wants - likely will no longer be complicated by Franklin's in-waiting status but will be influenced by several other factors.

Friedgen is fresh off a resurgent season that saw the Terrapins (8-4) orchestrate the second-biggest turnaround in the country. After leading the Terrapins to their seventh bowl game in his 10-year tenure, he was named ACC coach of the year for a second time (the first was in 2001). Maryland will have a chance to challenge for the ACC's Atlantic Division title next year with a strong group of returning players, led by conference rookie of the year and starting quarterback Danny O'Brien.

On the other hand, Friedgen, 63, is not considered the same caliber of recruiter as Franklin, who had strong working relationships with many area coaches and was instrumental in O'Brien choosing Maryland. Franklin's expected departure could have ramifications on Maryland's current recruiting class, which is expected to rank among the nation's top 50 unless Franklin's departure causes some players to change their minds.

Also, while Maryland returned to success on the field, season ticket sales declined for a fifth straight year. Maryland has fallen more than $500,000 short of season ticket sales projections each of the past two seasons. And fans filled Byrd Stadium to 75 percent capacity only once this past season.

Perhaps as a result, Maryland, despite finishing in a three-way tie for third place in the ACC, dropped to the eighth slot in the ACC bowl selections. The Terrapins will play East Carolina (6-6) in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29. John Donovan, Maryland's running backs coach, is considered a favorite to assume offensive coordinator duties in the bowl game.

Franklin impressed Vanderbilt officials after two in-person interviews with them. He emerged as one of two finalists - the other being Stanford offensive coordinator Greg Roman - before the school made a long-shot attempt to land Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn late last week.

A source familiar with the search said Malzahn verbally accepted Vanderbilt's offer that would have paid him close to $3 million annually over the weekend but that further contract negotiations prevented the move from becoming official at that time. Malzahn withdrew from consideration Monday, and Auburn more than doubled his salary (from $500,000 to about $1.3 million per year), according to ESPN.com.

David Williams, Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for athletics, was enamored of Franklin since meeting him while Franklin worked as Kansas State's offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007. Franklin would become the first African-American head coach of any sport at Vanderbilt.

"Even back then, he was putting into motion a plan of what it would take to be a head coach," Williams said in a telephone interview last week. "The other thing is, we were aware that he is the coach-in-waiting at Maryland. Obviously, somebody else has recognized some of the same things that we recognized."

Staff writer Steve Yanda contributed to this report.


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