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Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen
GREENSBORO, N.C.--College football coaches are control freaks, which must make the recent rash of agent infiltration all the more frustrating at places like Florida and North Carolina.
But at least those coaches know whom they must answer to. That's not the case with Ralph Friedgen.
The Fridge runs an apparently clean program at Maryland, albeit one that hasn't won much lately. He managed to keep his job at his alma mater despite a 2-10 record last fall, but it came with a caveat: Win seven games this season or lose your job.
That ultimatum, though, came from former athletic director Debbie Yow, who hired Friedgen in 2000. Then Yow left last month to take a similar job at N.C. State. Besides looking for her successor, Maryland is also in the market for a new president after C.D. Mote announced he's retiring on Aug. 31. Those two vacancies will probably need to be filled before Friedgen's job status is even discussed.
Talk about going without a huddle. Uncertainty is the only certainty in College Park these days.
Or is it?
"If I do well the next two years, I think I'll be at Maryland," Friedgen said yesterday. "If I don't, I won't."
It may be just that simple, but it won't be that easy.
Complicating the equation is the agreement Maryland signed with offensive coordinator James Franklin that will pay him $1 million if he isn't named Friedgen's successor after the 2011 season, when the Fridge's $2 million-a-year contract expires. Frankin, 38, is considered a hot young coach, and Yow didn't want to lose him.
But will her successor feel the same way about Friedgen (or Franklin)? No one knows. Most likely, the new president will choose a new AD, who will evaluate Friedgen and his staff after the season.
Friedgen is sure of one thing, though: Winning solves a lot of problems
"We're back to where we were when I got here," Friedgen said. "When I got to Maryland, I had 32 years as an assistant coach. I was 52 years old, and I was coming to a place that had won one bowl game in 18 years. We did some pretty good things, but we couldn't sustain it."
After winning 31 games (and the 2001 ACC title) in his first three seasons, Friedgen is just 35-38 in his last six, and attendance has dropped correspondingly. His wide seat is now white hot, no matter who makes the decision on his future.
Rest assured, though, that there will be no Gipper speeches this fall.
"Our kids, they feel the scrutiny, too," Friedgen said. "I don't have to push that button."
Even if he did, it might not be necessary. Said junior receiver Torrey Smith, a Stafford High School graduate: "We're playing to win in 2010. Whatever that means for coach Friedgen, we're playing for 2010."
Through it all, Friedgen has remained the people's coach. He said he's been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and encouragement he gets from fans, many of whom surely remember the dark ages under Joe Krivak, Mark Duffner and Mark Vanderlinden.
But fickle Maryland fans began calling for basketball coach Gary Williams' head just a few years after his team won the 2002 national title. So success has a relatively short shelf life.
Friedgen was asked yesterday what suggestions he would give to his new president. He wouldn't specify them, but he did say: "I hope he understands the importance of revenue sports and what they can do for a university."
Left unsaid was that it's successful revenue programs that make the difference. (Just ask the folks at Virginia). So no matter who's making the call on his future, Friedgen can convince them with a seventh bowl trip this fall. The pressure is on, and everyone knows it.
"I think the coaching staff feels it," Friedgen said. "It's not something we talk about, but they know the score. I kind of enjoy that kind of motivation."
If so, it should be a fun season for Friedgen.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443