It must be accepted at this point that Ralph Friedgen doesn’t have any magic left in that old silk hat. His team can’t protect the passer, they can’t run the ball, and the defense is slow and out of position. Friedgen is saying all the right things of course, that the goal of reaching a bowl game is still in sight, and that the ACC itself is still up for grabs. I don’t hope to imagine how he plans to reel off four straight, but I understand that he has to keep his players motivated. As far as winning the ACC, even I as a Maryland fan shudder at the idea. If a 6-6 team actually won a major conference, commissioner John Swofford should just airmail that automatic bid to the Mountain West Conference. Needless to say, Swofford won’t have to worry about that. Maryland’s schedule will take care of that, and they can thank the ACC for not having Georgia Tech on their slate. Can you imagine this front 7 trying to read and react to the triple option? I shudder to think about it.
But that isn’t the point, and Friedgen is saying what he should. What I take issue with is the future of the program. Ralph has made it known that he isn’t afraid to burn redshirts late in the season or throw whatever players out there it will take to win this season. Why would you mortgage your future to protect a team that is tanking? Two reasons: pride and fear. Pride because regardless of the consequences later, a head coach wants to win and win now, if for no other reason than your own competitive flare. Fear because he is worried about his job and wants to end the season on a high note to convince his bosses to keep him around.
I have seen a lot of coaches do the latter. Heck, on the other side of the Potomac Al Groh makes a yearly exercise of it and has gotten pretty darn good at it. A whole host of other marginal coaches have tried it late in their careers, but I would question whether this particular marginal coach should be worried about it. The athletic department is only barely in the black, an issue we have raised on ATH before and probably will again in the near future. The fact of the matter is that with Friedgen’s contract it just doesn’t make financial sense to keep him around, though it may be easier to sell Maryland’s many unoccupied luxury boxes if they had a “new regime” to rally behind.
Therein lies the bigger problem. Even if Friedgen goes, is James Franklin really the guy to take over? I wasn’t a fan of him being named the Coach-in-waiting at the time, and I would be loathe to find a Maryland fan who is terribly excited to have him as the head coach. Granted, I could be devastatingly wrong, and he could turn out to be a much better head coach than he is a coordinator. Nevertheless, if Franklin wasn’t the head coach, he would be owed $1 million for his troubles. The Athletic Department doesn’t have that kind of money.
But again, this is one season and Ralph Friedgen has taken this program places where it hadn’t been in decades, so it stands to reason that the future might be even brighter down the road. But it doesn’t look like it right now. Penn State has always robbed Maryland of its in-state recruits, and that is understandable. But more and more teams are reaching into MD’s backyard and drawing recruits who one would think at least have thought of Maryland. It worries me that Friedgen’s squad is only one of many teams making a play for MD high school football players, and not the established presence that other teams need to come in and unseat. It isn’t as though Maryland has another in-state school to compete with like Virginia Tech-Virginia, Georgia Tech-Georgia, or even North Carolina-Duke-NC State. With James Franklin also in charge of recruiting in the state, this makes this only a great worry.
In the end it all comes down to money. I would never toss out Ralph Friedgen based on one season or even the slow decline his program has undergone since his first years on the job. It is clear however that the long term health of this program is in jeopardy, with the team thin on both sides of the line despite recruiting classes that have been in the 26th-38th range among recent years according to Rivals. Could some of the energy put into creating those solid classes gone to the non-skill positions? Regardless, the University can’t afford to fire Friedgen or not give Franklin the job before 2012. Terps fans are left to cross their fingers and hope that either the team reverses the trend of the last 5 years or the athletic department suddenly gets into the black.