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Successor plan can work at Maryland

2/6/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was in a recruit's home recently when the prospect's high school coach had a pressing question he was hesitant to ask.

"He said, 'We hear you're going to retire,'" Friedgen, 61, said. "I said, who said that?' 'One of your competitors.'

"Well, Penn State was recruiting him, and so was Boston College. I said, 'Well, (Frank) Spaziani's 64 and (Joe) Paterno's pushing 90, and you're worried about me retiring?

"I said, 'No, I don't think so,' but it is getting to that point where people are going to be questioning how long I'm going to be coaching," Friedgen said. "Whether it's three years or five years from now, we'll have a guy in place that's going to take over and I think that's going to help the stability of this program, it's going to keep the direction where we want to go, and it's going to answer all those questions."

Maryland answered those questions Friday when it named offensive coordinator James Franklin the Terps' head-coach-in waiting. It's not quite clear just how long Franklin will wait, as Friedgen said on Friday he plans to coach at least until the end of his contract, which doesn't expire until Jan. 2, 2012. Terms of Franklin's contract were not released, but Maryland did what it had to do to keep Franklin, 37, from fleeing to the NFL.

This won't work at every school, but because of the timeline and personalities involved, the successor plan works at Maryland. It's not Virginia Tech, where athletic director Jim Weaver has no idea how long Frank Beamer will coach. It's not Florida State, where there is a staff member like Mickey Andrews, who thought he was going to be the guy.

It's Maryland, where athletic director Debbie Yow and Friedgen were looking for somebody who wants to be in College Park and had previous ties to the program, and where realistically, there is a ceiling on how high up the food chain they can hire. That's not a knock on Franklin -- he's got the "it" factor a head coach needs. But Maryland isn't going to win over a Rich Rodriguez, or a Les Miles.

This is all about a seamless, effective transition that eliminates a messy coaching search. And no, Yow said, this has nothing to do with Friedgen's health. All is well on that front. (Friedgen said he's been working on getting back his "girlish figure" since October).

Maryland's staff accepted the news without resistance, and Friedgen -- who has a reputation for sometimes being difficult to work for -- has been a good sport about the whole situation. When Yow was in the middle of working on Franklin's contract last week, Friedgen called her. She answered the phone by saying, "James?" because the contract was on her mind.

"No, not yet," quipped Friedgen.

It's a win-win situation for the Terps because Franklin is a strong recruiter -- and that has been Maryland's weakest point. He is considered by some to be one of the top recruiters in the country, and helped the Terps land some gems this season.

Franklin has the itch to be a head coach, and knew he'd have the chance at Maryland when he took the job, but had to prove himself in 2008 in his first year as the Terps' offensive coordinator. He earned the respect of both Friedgen and his players -- even if they don't always like hearing from him.

Franklin called his starting quarterback at 4:44 a.m. on Friday. He just wanted to make sure Chris Turner was awake for his 5:45 a.m. winter conditioning run. Franklin is always there first, working out and waiting.

"He's a maniac sometimes," Turner said, shaking his head.

"I get excited," Franklin said with a smile.

Turner knows Franklin isn't his best friend, but he's easily approachable and he made Turner a better quarterback last season. He also has the potential to make Maryland a better football program in the future.