Thursday, February 12, 2009

In Defense of Maryland Athletics

Recently there has been an unending stream of criticism directed towards Maryland Men's Basketball for their recent failings and Maryland Football for the appointment of James Franklin as Ralph Friedgen's successor. While yes, some of this criticism is warranted, I think that we as fans get swept up in media criticism and are letting that point a one-sided picture of the situation. So rather, let's take a breath and think about the other side.

Maryland Football:
As I'm sure most of you know, Debbie Yow (Maryland's athletic director) and Ralph Friedgen have recently appointed James Franklin as the successor to Ralph Friedgen as the head football coach of the Maryland Terrapins. The common criticism is that James Franklin hasn't accomplished enough at Maryland and the idea of a 'successor' is just a copycat of other institutions across the country.

In my opinion, however, this was a move that illustrates excellent foresight and wisdom by the athletic department. There have been repeated questions, at least in recruiting circles, about how long exactly Ralph Friedgen will continue to coach. With Friedgen's deal running only to 2012, he cannot guarantee recruits who will be the coach when that time rolls around. It is imperative in selling recruits that they know who will be the coach and whether or not they would fit into that system. All indications are that Ralph will most likely hang it up after 2012, and the deal with Franklin states that if Ralph chooses to continue as head coach after that date, Franklin would be free to go wherever he wants.

Also, who's to say that James Franklin is not the guy for the job? He has an excellent offensive mind (even if it's not always executed on the field), and is a tremendous motivator. He is passionate and demanding in practice, but holds a calm and supportive demeanor come gametime. As a recruiter, James Franklin has strong roots in this area and can use his youth and charisma to draw in better prospects. It is for these reasons that Franklin has become an increasingly hot commodity, particularly in light of the recent push for more African-American head coaches. Maryland didn't hesitate in solidifying the foundation of a greater future for Terrapin football, and for that they should be roundly commended.

Maryland Men's Basketball:
In recent weeks, Gary Williams and the entire Men's Basketball program at the University of Maryland has come under immense scrutiny. It is no secret that Terps basketball has been on a steady decline since the 2002 National Championship, and that recruiting failures have been a large part of it. The Terps currently stand at 15-8 (4-5 ACC) and are staring down the barrel of missing the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years.

It's important, however, to realize that not all of this is Gary's fault. There have been several instances, such as the Gus Gilchrist transfer and the Tyree Evans debacle, in which Gary has brought in a player with exceptional talent but has had him slip away for reasons past his control. Let's imagine, for a minute, if Gus Gilchrist stays. Maryalnd then has a five star power forward who could dominate the paint and keep opposing defenses honest. I imagine then whether or not Gary Williams would be considered a 'has-been' as a coach.

When players give a commitment, coaches then have to assume that they will follow through and thus move on to fill different holes on the roster. Gary Williams has been caught in a few unfortunate situations where he filled the holes, but had those reopened because of late de-commits with little to no time to compensate. The 2009 recruiting class, with power forwards James Padgett and Jordan Williams should reinvigorate this team and make them a viable ACC competitor again. Jordan Williams in particular has broken out in his senior season, regularly putting up 40+ points in recent games, and has found his stock increase rapidly. Gary secured his commitment long before his breakout, seeing the talent before others did and bringing him into the fold; was this noticed and commended by the media pundits slamming his recruiting abilities? No.

Gary Williams needs to change certain things about his style, but by no means should he step down or be fired from his position. He is the face of Maryland Basketball, and by all means has maximized the talent he currently has. Instead of judging Gary by his recent record, look past the surface as to what has really brought the team here. Maryland basketball will be back, and it will be sooner than most people think.

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

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