According to the Washington Post, Maryland Head Football Coach Ralph Friedgen may be on his way out following the departure of offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting James Franklin. The report, echoing an earlier claim by ESPN’s Joe Schad, indicates that Athletic Director Kevin Anderson will ask Coach Friedgen to retire and accept a buy-out, one that will usher in a new era of Maryland football. The timing of the move is particularly strange given the Terrapins’ bounceback 2010 campaign, where they went from a 2-10 travesty to a 8-4 record that put them one ill-fated end zone interception away from the ACC Championship game. Just a month ago Anderson was proclaiming that Friedgen would be safe for 2011. Now he seems to have had a change of heart.
Why? The only thing that has changed with the Terps’ has been James Franklin accepting the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, which has never seemed like much of a loss to me. I hope Franklin is a better head coach than he was an offensive coordinator for much of his tenure at Maryland, where hype seemed to follow him more than results. There was nothing magnificent in the Terrapin offense even at its best, though he was known as an exemplary recruiter. That said, the deficits in Maryland’s recruiting over the past several years were apparent with the sorry state of depth on the offensive line. No matter how you slice it, Franklin’s leaving the program shouldn’t have seemed like that much of a sacrifice.
But he was still the coach-in-waiting. Perhaps Anderson thought that keeping Friedgen around was fine for 2011 as long as Franklin could take over afterwards. With that out of the picture, he saw no reason to keep Friedgen around. But that seems shortsighted. It has been apparent for the last 3 years that Friedgen wasn’t going to build Maryland into a true perennial ACC contender, but his 8-4 season should have been enough of a reason to let him see what he could do with a more experienced team and a defined quarterback for an entire season in Danny O’Brien. Moreover, for an Athletic Department so deep in the red it makes little sense to throw money around to get rid of a coach who just had one of the biggest turnarounds in the NCAA this season.
Part of the issue could be the mass exodus of coaches from Friedgen’s staff, who James Franklin has apparently offered positions at Vanderbilt. If Anderson only ever planned to give Friedgen one more year, it may be tough to validate allowing him to bring on 5 new coaches, including a new offensive and defensive coordinator.
It may very well come down to Kevin Anderson wanting to make a name for himself as Athletic Director, to get “his” guy in there and make a big impact. If that’s the case, he may have some work to do with the possible candidates to replace Friedgen being bandied about. According to the ESPN report, the top three names at this stage appear to be Ty Willingham (yes that Ty Willingham, who we last saw drive Washington into the ground), Mike Leach (who we last saw suing ESPN for their coverage of his firing), and Mike Locksley (who we last saw at… at New Mexico, where he has gone 1-11 in 2009 and, yes, 1-11 in 2010).
Each one of these have one thing in common. All would take minimum wage to coach at Maryland. Mike Leach desperately wants a job- he said he would be interested in anything, and I’m pretty sure he would take anything. Ty Willingham is unemployed and has such a stigma left from Notre Dame and turning the Huskies into a smoking crater that he would take anything. Just to note, Willingham hasn’t had a decent team since 2002, when he went 10-3 in his first season at Notre Dame. Mike Locksley has a long coaching career, including 5 years as Maryland’s running back’s coach from 1997-2002. However, he isn’t impressing anyone in his first two years at New Mexico.
Mike Leach wouldn’t be a terrible hire, if he can convince parents to send their kids to him- I don’t think he is as bad as he was made out to be, but the stigma is there. He is clearly the frontrunner given his ties to UnderArmour head Kevin Plank and the possibility that UMD could get him for a bargain rate considering his past coaching success. But if Ty Willingham and Mike Locksley are the answers, I don’t want to know the question. If Ralph Friedgen really is fired after adding 6 wins and coming a game away from the division title, I hope there are better replacement options than that.