Maryland is likely to ask Friedgen to accept buyout

(John Mcdonnell)
By Eric Prisbell and Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 18, 2010

The University of Maryland is moving toward asking Coach Ralph Friedgen to retire and accept a buyout early next week, according to three sources close to the football program with knowledge of the financial details involved in such a move.

In a teleconference Friday, Kevin Anderson, Maryland's first-year athletic director, declined to guarantee that Friedgen would return for 2011, the final year of his contract. The refusal to re-commit to Friedgen, 63, came just one month after Anderson announced that Friedgen would return in 2011.

Anderson said to expect an announcement regarding the program's future early next week. When asked Friday if Friedgen was guaranteed to return, Anderson paused for a few seconds before saying: "I will sit down and everybody will understand where we are going and how we are moving with the program. At this point in time, I am not going to answer that question."

Friedgen was not on the teleconference because a school spokesperson said he was sick. A detailed message left on Friedgen's cellphone was not immediately returned Friday.

If Friedgen stepped down or was fired, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach would emerge as the leading candidate to replace him, the sources added. A source with ties to Leach said Leach would definitely be interested in the job. Leach has a strong relationship with Kevin Plank, a former Maryland football player who sits on the school's board of trustees and whose apparel company, Under Armour, is the outfitter for the school's athletic programs.

Reached on his cellphone Friday night, Leach said that he has not been contacted by Maryland.

The signs that Friedgen could be on the way out after 10 seasons came on a day when Vanderbilt introduced James Franklin as its new head coach. Franklin, 38, left his position as Maryland's offensive coordinator 22 months after he was appointed Maryland's head coach-in-waiting.

Anderson said Friday that Maryland did not make a counter-offer in an attempt to keep Franklin at Maryland. With Franklin leaving, it frees up at least $1 million that the school would have owed Franklin had he remained at Maryland and not been named head coach by January 2012. Friedgen is owed about $2 million for the remaining year on his contract.

A source close to the Maryland athletic department said Franklin's departure "helped set wheels in motion with a focus on pursuing Mike Leach. Essentially the thought is now is the time to strike. You somehow work with Ralph to quote-unquote retire."

Franklin has offered four current Maryland assistant coaches positions on his Vanderbilt coaching staff, according to a source with direct knowledge of the offers. The source said John Donovan, Maryland's running backs coach (and interim offensive coordinator), was offered the Vanderbilt offensive coordinator position, and that Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown, wide receivers coach Lee Hull and special teams coach Charles Bankins were offered the same positions they held at Maryland. Contract negotiations between those who accept were expected to begin no later than Saturday morning.

Friedgen has made clear that he wants to coach beyond 2011 ever since the coach-in-waiting deal was announced in February 2009. He has been telling high school prospects that he plans to coach for the majority of their college careers.

After a 2-10 season in 2009 nearly cost Friedgen his job, Friedgen orchestrated the second-biggest turnaround in the country this season, leading the Terrapins to an 8-4 record and their seventh bowl appearance during his 10-year tenure. He won his second ACC coach of the year award this season.

But the program has been plagued by significant attendance issues. Season ticket sales have declined for five straight seasons. The school fell more than $500,000 short of season ticket sales projections in each of the past two seasons. And despite finishing in a three-way tie for third in the ACC, Maryland fell to the eighth slot in the ACC bowl pecking order in large part because of concerns about how well Maryland fans would travel to a bowl game. The Terrapins will play East Carolina (6-6) in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29.

The turn of events this week - Franklin's departure coupled with signs pointing toward Friedgen's exit - could have a drastic effect on Maryland's recruiting efforts. Prospects have given only non-binding oral commitments.

Anderson said Franklin's departure changes the way he looks at the program now. Anderson said he and Friedgen have already talked about the program's future, adding: "We have not come to any conclusions yet. But I will tell you by early next week, our discussions are way ahead, and we will be able to comment further on that next week."

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