Maryland fires Ralph Friedgen after coach refuses to retire

By Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 12:09 AM

Describing the move as a long-term "business decision," Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson on Monday announced the firing of Coach Ralph Friedgen, who has led the program for the past decade.

Stressing his desire to move the program from "good to great," Anderson said he was not willing to give Friedgen, 63, a contract extension beyond next season and that after offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting James Franklin left for Vanderbilt last week, the need to make a change accelerated.

Anderson said the school will form a search committee and possibly hire an outside firm to find Friedgen's replacement, but former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach will be the school's primary initial target, according to multiple sources who requested anonymity because the process is ongoing.

Anderson acknowledged that Leach was among the names on his list of possible replacements but said neither he nor anyone on his staff had contacted Leach. Anderson said he would like to make the hire prior to Jan. 4, which marks the beginning of a period in which coaches can have contact with potential recruits.

As Franklin's departure was developing last week, Anderson said he spoke with Friedgen to discuss his desire to make a change. Friedgen was unwilling to retire and instead will be fired following Maryland's appearance in the Dec. 29 Military Bowl at RFK Stadium. His contract will be terminated effective Jan. 2, 2011, and he will be paid a buyout of roughly $2 million.

No state funds will be used to pay out the contracts of Friedgen and his assistants, Anderson said. The funds for the buyouts will come entirely from "revenue generation, private fundraising and strategic business decisions," according to a release issued by the school's athletic department.

Friedgen, who was not available to comment, went 74-50 in 10 years at his alma mater and won ACC coach of the year honors in his first and last seasons. He led the Terrapins to seven bowl appearances, including the Orange Bowl in 2001 after the team finished atop the conference standings. Only two football coaches in program history amassed more victories than Friedgen, who turned around a squad that went 2-10 in 2009.

The Terrapins went 8-4 this past season and finished in a three-way tie for third place in the ACC. However, attendance at Byrd Stadium flagged despite the success, and perhaps as a result, Maryland fell to the eighth slot in the conference's pecking order. After he shared his decision with members of the team's leadership council earlier Monday, Anderson said the players told him they did not want to leave their postseason destiny in the hands of others in future seasons.

"They told me that they want to go to the Orange Bowl and to have teams go to the Orange Bowl and they don't have to count on anybody else to make the decision for them," Anderson said in a news conference. "That's the kind of person they want me to hire for their next football coach."

Though Leach was the only name Anderson would specify as being on his list of possible successors, he did offer some of the qualities he will search for in the program's next head coach.

"I want somebody who can have the kind of intellect to communicate and to bring the best out of our players, both as a football player, as a student and as a person," Anderson said. "I believe that if we hire the right person that can do that, that we'll be successful in all phases."

Leach, 49, went 84-43 in 10 seasons with the Red Raiders and operated a prolific, pass-happy offense. Texas Tech fired him after he refused to apologize for allegedly ordering a player who had suffered a concussion to stand in a darkened garage near the team's practice facility during an afternoon workout. Leach later filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming wrongful termination.

Regardless of who takes over Maryland's football program, his first few tasks will include holding together what had been considered a quality recruiting class and convincing players currently on the roster to stay put.

One such player is redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien, the ACC rookie of the year this fall. O'Brien's mother, Janie Wright, said in a telephone interview that her son will wait until Friedgen's successor is hired before deciding whether to remain at Maryland or transfer to another school.

"That would make the most sense," Wright said. "A rash decision can't be made. We wish [offensive coordinator James] Franklin had remained. We wish things were the way we thought the agreement was, that Coach Friedgen had remained. Apparently, others had different ideas."

Anderson said that had Franklin not left for Vanderbilt, Friedgen would have remained Maryland's coach next season. On Nov. 18, Anderson released a statement guaranteeing Friedgen would return for the final year of his contract, but he declined to give Friedgen the contract extension the coach desired.

When it became clear last week that Franklin was leaving the program, Anderson determined that hiring a quality offensive coordinator and likely a host of other new assistants would be futile, given that Friedgen had one year remaining on a contract the athletic director was unwilling to extend.

On Wednesday, Anderson pressured Friedgen to resign or retire immediately so that the school could announce the move in a news conference Friday, according to a source close to Friedgen. According to the source, Anderson told Friedgen that Maryland President Wallace D. Loh "wants this done now."

Friedgen declined to retire, a stance he maintained throughout the weekend. The source said that after a hostile conversation with Friedgen's representative, Anderson handed off discussions to university legal counsel Susan Bayly, who attempted to entice Friedgen to step down with offers such as to affix his name on the Ring of Honor at Byrd Stadium.

Around 10 a.m. Monday morning, Bayly asked one final time if Friedgen had changed his mind. The answer: No. And so Maryland elected to fire its once-beloved football coach.

At the news conference, Loh said, "I admire Mr. Anderson for making that principled decision, even though that pained him and pained me."

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