Ralph Friedgen's status had been
an ongoing subject of speculation before an announcement by
first-year Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson this week
that the College Park alumnus would not return as Terps football
coach next season.
Anderson felt circumstances required a change. Friedgen
reportedly got a buyout of roughly $2 million for the 2011 year
that remained on his contract.
Friedgen was on the hot seat
after a 2-10 season in 2009. The Terps improved to 8-4 in 2010
after former athletic director Debbie Yow moved to N.C. State
and was replaced by Anderson. Friedgen was named Atlantic Coast
Conference coach of the year following the improvement. The
6-win increase from last season to this season was second only
to Miami of Ohio in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The issue that emerged relevant
to East Carolina as the Pirates prepare for their Military Bowl
matchup with the Terps at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, on
Wednesday, Dec. 29 (2:30 p.m., ESPN) was the effect the
situation would have on the opposition's collective psyche.
Will there be extra motivation
to send Friedgen out with a win or will the Terps be headed in
another direction? With the recent departure of former Maryland
offensive coordinator James Franklin to Vanderbilt — the factor
that apparently served as the catalyst in Anderson's decision to
shelve Friedgen — one might conclude that the Terps could be in
a state of disarray in the midst of an imminent coaching
transition. Franklin was Maryland's "coach in waiting," an
increasingly popular, but not always binding, designation.
The situation is different from
programs such as Florida, where Urban Meyer is stepping aside,
because that decision was made by the popular Gators coach
himself. Despite his reported resistance, Friedgen's future was
defined for him. Bowl teams seldom deal with circumstances where
their coach has been deposed going into the game.
Ironically, many of the ECU
coaches have experience in that regard and they handled it
successfully in terms of the bowl's outcome.
Speculation about the Maryland
coaching search could be a potential distraction. Coincidentally
for the Pirate staff, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has
been mentioned prominently as a candidate to succeed big Ralph.
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill was Leach's defensive coordinator for
the Red Raiders until a few days before the Alamo Bowl last
season when Leach was dismissed and Ruff became interim head
coach for the bowl game with Michigan State. With 13 Spartan
players suspended, McNeill directed a 41-31 Red Raiders win.
All of McNeill's coordinators —
Clay McGuire (special teams), Lincoln Riley (offense) and Brian
Mitchell (defense) — were on Leach's former staff at Texas Tech.
The two-edged sword for ECU is that a strong performance in any
phase in the bowl game against Maryland could enhance any of
those coordinators' stock as potential candidates to rejoin
The appeal of being at a
program that belongs to a conference with an automatic qualifier
in the Bowl Championship Series is one that the Pirates covet
for themselves. It certainly was a driving factor in Skip
Holtz's departure to South Florida after winning back-to-back
Conference USA championships at ECU in 2008 and 2009. Maryland,
of course, has the AQ/BCS in the ACC.
It has been a turbulent time
for Friedgen and the program in which he once played since the
Terps' regular season concluded with a 38-31 win over N.C. State
on Nov. 27. With its win over the Wolfpack, Maryland finished in
a tie for third in the ACC overall standings and had designs on
the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. State was chosen over
Maryland for that trip to the Sunshine State and the Terps were
bypassed by subsequent bowls with which the ACC is affiliated.
Fan support — or lack thereof — was the consideration that
apparently made Maryland unpopular with various bowl selection
The Terps were still on the
table when the Military Bowl, slotted eighth in the ACC pecking
order, got their pick. The third-year event, previously known as
the Eagle Bank Bowl, was elated to have the area draw but there
was considerably less than reciprocal enthusiasm on the part of
the Maryland players and coaches to find out that their
postseason trip would be all of 10 miles.
The extended forecast is
calling for sunny and 63 degrees in Orlando for the Champs
Sports Bowl. The outlook in D.C. predicts mostly sunny and 34.
To the credit of the Terps fans, they've warmed up to the notion
of a virtual home game. It was announced Monday that Maryland
has sold its ticket allotment for the Military Bowl despite the
current state of uncertainty and speculation that has engulfed
Reports indicate the
possibility that Terp quarterback Danny O'Brien, the ACC rookie
of the year, would consider transferring depending on who
Friedgen's successor is.
If the new man is Leach, whose
propensity for passing is well established, the presumption is
that O'Brien would remain in place.
Franklin's departure and his
overtures to other Maryland coaches to join him in Nashville
greased the wheels to move Friedgen out in Anderson's analysis.
The Terp AD cited the uncertainty in recruiting if Friedgen
stayed for the last year of his contract without an extension.
Unwilling to go in that direction, the move toward a new coach
was made sooner instead of later.
The Terps apparently didn't
want Friedgen to become entrenched to the extent that Joe
Paterno is at Penn State or to the degree that Bobby Bowden was
at Florida State. Removal of a coach with that kind of longevity
and success is complicated. Friedgen, who was 74-50 in 10 years
at his alma mater with a 2001 trip to the Orange Bowl, wasn't on
that level but Anderson's move assures that the AD won't have to
deal with a coach who is approaching legendary status with
The timing of Anderson's move
may work in the long run but for the present, it has likely
skewed the focus within the program on the task at hand.
McNeill has lauded his staff's
stability, hard work, adjustment and chemistry in their first
year on the job in Greenville. Although the Terps appear more
talented in certain aspects of the game, ECU has not had to deal
with the same degree of distraction and frustration that has
been thrust upon the Maryland camp.
McNeill always says that his
program will focus on what it can control and, obviously, the
turmoil in College Park is out of the Pirates' hands.