Firing Ralph Friedgen is wrong, but Maryland hopes it will generate dollars

Ralph Friedgen leads his team onto the field before a Nov. 27 win over North Carolina State. He may coach in the Dec. 29 Military Bowl, the seventh postseason bid Maryland has received in his 10 years in charge of the program. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Ralph Friedgen leads his team onto the field before a Nov. 27 win over North Carolina State. He may coach in the Dec. 29 Military Bowl, the seventh postseason bid Maryland has received in his 10 years in charge of the program. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 12:19 AM

The stunning and seemingly sudden decision by Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson to fire Ralph Friedgen as football coach makes absolute sense.

After all, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has the potential to bring a passion to the school's football program not seen since Friedgen's first season 10 years ago.

Maryland won eight games this season, statistically the second-best turnaround in college football. Almost no one cared. Fans failed to fill Byrd Stadium, one of the ACC's smaller venues, even once. When 48,000 showed up on a perfect November night for a game against Florida State with the Terrapins still contending for the division title, Maryland officials acted as if they had set a new attendance mark.

That's why Maryland is playing in the low-level Military Bowl. A trip to frigid Washington, D.C., to play in a decrepit stadium on a weekday afternoon in December? Most football people consider that to be more punishment than reward.

Anderson did what he had to do when he had the opportunity to do it. He's absolutely right to force out Friedgen before Leach lands someplace else.

He also could not be more wrong. This has the feel of a professional lynching.

Athletic directors are like college presidents. When you put aside all the phony talk about "student-athletes" and mentoring youngsters and the other self-righteous nonsense that comes from big-time college athletic programs, an AD has one job: make money. They are paid to sell tickets; get revenue teams to the postseason; increase licensing and - perhaps most important - woo boosters and alumni into writing big checks. At Maryland, most of the money that has come in during this century has been in the name of men's basketball. When Anderson was hired in September to replace Debbie Yow, his highest priority had to be fixing football.

Friedgen made Anderson's job more difficult by going 8-4. Another losing season on the heels of a 2-10 season and the decision would have been easy. Of course, in the decidedly mediocre ACC, the significance of an eight-win season can be debated. That said, Maryland tied for third in the overall ACC standings and Friedgen was named the conference's coach of the year.

Anderson told Friedgen last month he would be back for 2011, the final year of his contract. At that moment, Friedgen might have overplayed his hand, all but publicly demanding a contract extension and telling recruits he expected to coach them for the majority of their college careers.

If Anderson was sold on the idea of an extension, he would have announced it right after the victory over N.C. State. It is clear now the only thing that kept Anderson from moving Friedgen out sooner was the $1 million albatross Yow left behind with the ludicrous "coach-in-waiting" deal she gave James Franklin almost two years ago.

Friedgen isn't being fired because he can't coach. He had a record of 74-50 in 10 years after taking over a moribund program at his alma mater. He went to seven bowl games. The anomaly of 2009 aside, he put together a solid program.

But that wasn't enough. Friedgen's being fired because he no longer excites Maryland fans even when he's winning. They sent that message loud and clear this past season, and there was no reason to believe that would change next fall. Anderson didn't want to commit to Friedgen through 2014, and he recognized Friedgen was right when he said recruiting would be hampered by being a lame-duck coach. Once Franklin left for Vanderbilt, Anderson had to make his move, one way or the other.


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