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View from the 'ville
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

By Al Myatt

Scenarios swirl with Friedgen's ouster

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 Leach.

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 groups.

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 the program.

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 marginal success.

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.

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Al Myatt Archives

12/22/2010 03:22 AM


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