Any head coach wants to go out on his own terms, but it so rarely happens as Ralph Friedgen has painfully learned this week after 10 years at Maryland.
Despite being told by new athletic director Kevin Anderson that he would return to coach the Terps in the final year of his current contract in 2011, Friedgen has been forcefully asked to take a buyout and retire, ending his 10-year run as head coach of his alma mater.
With Friedgen exiting, it appears former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is the Terps’ desired successor. Sources tell WNST.net the hiring of Leach is imminent with the controversial coach being targeted as the big name needed to revitalize a struggling program.
Leach declined comment when reached by WNST.net Saturday afternoon, as he and Friedgen are close and the high-profile candidate wished for more clarity to the situation before speaking further.
Of course, given Leach’s controversial exit from Lubbock, Anderson could face opposition from influential university supporters in the days to come. Leach was suspended and eventually fired at Texas Tech after the controversial treatment of a football player who had suffered a concussion. The 49-year-old, however, believed his termination was due in part to the bitter contract negotiations taking place at the time.
Leach has a close relationship with Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, a former Maryland football player and major contributor to the athletic program. Plank would likely sell Leach as the collegiate football face of Under Armour should he take the job at Maryland.
Other names such as former Maryland assistant and New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley and former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham are not considered as candidates for the head job at this time, as numerous sources claim Leach is the school’s only current target.
Friedgen’s departure comes after he was named the 2010 ACC Coach of the Year following a six-game turnaround from a disastrous 2-10 record in 2009. According to several sources, Friedgen’s wish for a contract extension was not well-received by the new athletic director who couldn’t ignore the program’s lackluster record and financial problems in recent seasons.
Friday’s announcement of Vanderbilt hiring offensive coordinator James Franklin as its new head coach likely sped up the timetable of Anderson’s desire to make a new mark on a program that’s struggled in recent years. Franklin had previously been the coach-in-waiting and the program’s top recruiter, which likely would have led to fallout with recruiting even if Friedgen had remained next season.
With the program’s financial struggles hardly a secret, reports indicate Maryland football will fall $2 million short of expected revenues this season. As the recently-renovated Tyser Tower holds unsold suites at Byrd Stadium and season tickets sales have declined for five straight years, this bold move is about pumping new blood in the program.
In a teleconference regarding Franklin’s exit on Friday afternoon, Anderson would not confirm Friedgen’s return in 2011. The athletic director also said he did not make a counteroffer to persuade Franklin to remain with the Terps, adding fuel to the speculative fire that he was aiming to clean house entirely.
Maryland will play East Carolina in the Military Bowl on December 29 in a game now looking far more intriguing given this week’s drama and the immediate and long-term future of the program. Friedgen is, however, expected to coach at RFK Stadium in his final game with the Terps.
WNST.net’s Glenn Clark and Drew Forrester contributed to this article.