COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland had the ACC’s Coach of the Year. It had the second-biggest turnaround in the FBS. And it was one win away from a chance to play in the Discover Orange Bowl.
None of it helped Ralph Friedgen’s job security.
“I took that into account,” first-year athletic director Kevin Anderson said. “This was a good football team. I believe it can be great. We’re going to bring the best person in here to get to that greatness and to sustain it. That’s what we’re looking at. That’s why the decision has been made at this time.”
With a new administration came a new standard at Maryland, and an 8-4 record apparently won’t cut it.
Friedgen, a Maryland alum and leader of the Terps for the past decade, did everything he could do this season short of winning the Atlantic Division. It was a remarkable turnaround for a team picked to finish last in the ACC after an embarrassing 2-10 finish in 2009, but a unique situation forced Anderson to make a tough decision and think long-term. The departure of former offensive coordinator James Franklin opened the door for Anderson to make a sweeping change and put his stamp on the program less than three months on the job. With no offensive coordinator, only one year remaining on Friedgen’s contract, and no extension, it was the right choice and the only choice.
Maryland will pay $2 million to buy out the final year of Friedgen’s contract – an expense to be paid entirely by the financially struggling athletic department. Anderson, who took office on Oct. 1, said he expects a search firm to be hired by the end of the day, and that yes, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is a candidate. Anderson declined to discuss any other names on his list, but said he hopes to name Friedgen’s successor by Jan. 4.
“Right now there is no leading candidate,” Anderson said. “… I do have a list. Mike Leach is on that list.”
Franklin, who was hired to be head coach at Vanderbilt, opted not to be.
Even if Franklin would have stayed, Anderson said there was no guarantee that he would have honored former athletic director Debbie Yow’s coach-in-waiting plan. Franklin would have been a candidate, Anderson said, but not the only one.
“James and I did have a discussion,” he said. “I told him I would not automatically give him the job, but he would have been a candidate had he chose to stay and the decision was his.”
Following his eight-win season, Friedgen wanted a contract extension, but Anderson said he “wasn’t willing” to give him one. Friedgen’s contract expires Jan. 2, 2012, and it would have been impossible for him to recruit and hire assistants with only one year remaining. No offensive coordinator in the country is going to sign a one-year deal in College Park, let alone anywhere else.
The only option was to start over.
Friedgen, who will coach the Terps in the Military Bowl, will leave behind a team that can win. The Terps have the ACC’s Rookie of the Year in quarterback Danny O’Brien, and if the team stays intact, it can contend for the Atlantic Division title again in 2011.
But based on today’s decision, Anderson wants more than that.
He wants Maryland in the Top 25 on a consistent basis. He wants a coach who can get fans excited about football here again. That’s a tall task for a program consistently competing with the Redskins, Ravens, Orioles, Wizards, Caps, etc. The expectations are loftier than the budget to support them, and championship-caliber coaches don't come cheap.
But a precedent has now been set.
On Jan. 2, Maryland will fire the ACC’s Coach of the Year -- the first time in conference history the league's coach of the year has been dismissed.
It's a nice title, but to Anderson, ACC titles clearly mean more.