Ralph Friedgen out as Maryland football coach; Mike Leach is top candidate to take over

By Eric Prisbell and Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 12:46 AM

The University of Maryland has informed Ralph Friedgen that his 10-year tenure as head football coach is over and has asked him to accept a buyout of his contract, two people familiar with the situation said Saturday.

The decision brings to an end Friedgen's run at his alma mater in which he recorded 31 victories in his first three years, bringing Maryland football to national prominence, and led the team to seven bowl appearances.

If Friedgen refuses to retire, the school would have to pay him about $2 million to buy out the remaining year on his contract. Friedgen has not made a decision on whether to accept the buyout offer, one individual close to Friedgen said, and no deadline has been established for Friedgen to make a decision.

Kevin Anderson, Maryland's first-year athletic director, said to expect an announcement regarding the football program's future early in the week.

When Friedgen's departure is announced, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach will immediately emerge as the clear front-runner to replace Friedgen. There is mutual interest between Leach and Maryland, according to three people, two of whom are close to Maryland and one of whom is close to Leach.

When reached on his cellphone Friday, Leach said that Maryland had yet to contact him.

Leach is said to be very interested in the job. He 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 teams.

When asked Friday if Friedgen would 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."

The source close to Friedgen, who like others contacted for this story insisted on anonymity because an official announcement has yet to be made, said Maryland has asked Friedgen to coach in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29. A school spokesman said that, at the moment, Friedgen is expected to coach in the game, but the person close to Friedgen said that Friedgen remains undecided.

Anderson addressed the Maryland football team at a team meeting Friday night, the individual said. Several Maryland players asked the athletic director who is their head coach and Anderson responded that he did not know at that moment.

Meantime, four Maryland assistants are deciding whether to accept offers to join James Franklin, Maryland's former offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting, on Vanderbilt's coaching staff, according to a person with direct knowledge of the offers. Those assistants are defensive coordinator Don Brown, running backs coach John Donovan, wide receivers coach Lee Hull and special teams coach Charles Bankins. Contract negotiations were expected to begin Saturday for those who accept.

Maryland is making an attempt to try to persuade Brown to stay, a source familiar with the situation said, adding that Brown has a relationship with Leach.

Friedgen, who has a 74-50 record in 10 seasons, struggled in recent years to match his initial success at the helm of the team. He was nearly fired after a 2-10 season in 2009. In 2010, he orchestrated the second-biggest turnaround among major football teams in the country, leading the Terrapins to an 8-4 record and their seventh bowl game in Friedgen's 10 seasons. He won the ACC Coach of the Year Award for the second time.

But the program has been plagued by attendance issues in recent years. Season ticket sales have declined for five straight seasons. Maryland fell more than $500,000 short of season ticket sales projections in each of the past two seasons. And only once this season did fans fill Byrd Stadium to 75 percent capacity.

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 bowl officials were concerned about how well Maryland fans would travel to a bowl game.

Friedgen has repeatedly said that he wanted to coach beyond 2011, and he had been telling high school prospects that he planned to coach them for the majority of their college careers. Anderson had announced Nov. 18 that Friedgen would return in 2011.

But when Franklin accepted the Vanderbilt job last week, it enabled Maryland to save $1 million that the school would have owed Franklin had he remained at Maryland and not been named head coach by January 2012.

Anderson said Franklin's departure changes the way he looks at the football program now. Anderson said Friday that he and Friedgen already had talked about the program's future, adding, "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."

prisbelle@washpost.com yandas@washpost.com

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