December 18, 2010
All reports out of College Park today suggest not only that Maryland has asked coach Ralph Friedgen to step aside in the wake of offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting James Franklin's departure for Vanderbilt, but that Friedgen has verbally agreed to accept a buyout of the final year of his contract, per the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and other outlets. It's not certain whether he'll coach the Terps in the Military Bowl on Dec. 29, but the consensus is overwhelming that the Fridge will not be back in 2011.
That's a tough break for a tough coach who did as much for his alma mater as any coach since the Terps were a short-lived national power in the early fifties. Friedgen was a part of Maryland's successful run under mentor Bobby Ross in the early eighties, and went on to win a national championship at Georgia Tech (1990) and take the San Diego Chargers to their only Super Bowl (1994) as Ross' offensive coordinator. His first season back in College Park as head coach produced a miraculous ACC championship in 2001; his next two teams combined for 21 wins, back-to-back top-20 finishes and decisive postseason victories in the Peach and Gator bowls in 2002-03.
That start alone was worth a decade of goodwill, at least, and Friedgen has needed it after consecutive 5-6 finishes in 2004-05 and a last-place, 2-10 debacle in 2009 that very nearly cost him his job. He goes out off a solid 8-4 rebound that earned him second ACC Coach of the Year award, but without any of the optimism or momentum that followed the first nine years ago. Attendance is down, recruiting has stagnated and first-year athletic director Kevin Anderson has no inclination to keep a lame duck boss around for the sake of playing out the string.
With Franklin and his $1 million buyout out of the picture, Anderson – who wasn't in charge for the decision to bring Friedgen back for his tenth season or make Franklin his heir apparent – is free to go after his own candidate. And by all accounts – specifically, this one by Chip Brown at Orangebloods.com – that candidate is the Pirate Coach himself, Mike Leach.
The former Texas Tech captain has made no secret of his impatience to get back in the game after a year in exile, and his relationship with Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank – a former Terrapin player and current UMD trustee – made Maryland likely port of call for Leach since Texas Tech set him adrift last year. He can make two guarantees: a) He'll change the culture, and b) He'll put fans in the seats.
The only major obstacle in Leach's path back to the captain's wheel: His personal quest for revenge against the landlubbing scalawags that done him in, i.e. an ongoing lawsuits against Texas Tech, Craig James and ESPN over his controversial ouster from Tech last year. Looming legal issues, amid any other doubts, could conceivably be a deal-breaker. Leach's agent insists he hasn't heard heard from Maryland, or from Maryland boosters.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.