University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen has verbally agreed to a buyout of his contract and will not return for the 2011 season, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to InsideMDSports.com.
Given the choice of returning for one final year or accepting a buyout, Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen chose the latter. (Chris Blunck Photo)
Maryland is likely to move quickly in an effort to hire former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, an offensive guru who served as Texas Tech's head coach from 2000 to 2009. Leach has a career record of 84-43 and engineered a record-breaking Red Raiders offense, but was fired last year following accusations he'd mistreated his players.
Leach has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the school.
Friedgen, 63, first learned of athletic director Kevin Anderson's intentions to buy him out early this week.
Reports conflict as to whether Anderson gave Friedgen the option of returning for the final season of his contract. Regardless, Anderson made it clear his contract would not be extended.
With the departure of at least one assistant and perhaps several more impending, and no contract extension to show to recruits, it likely would have difficult for Friedgen to lure either coaches or high school prospects to Maryland in 2011.
A press conference featuring Anderson and Friedgen was scheduled for Friday, which, according to two sources, was intended as an announcement of Friedgen's retirement as the Terps coach. Friedgen was unable to attend because, according to Maryland media relations staff, he was sick.
Anderson then held a teleconference during which he hinted that Friedgen's job was not secure.
An announcement of Friedgen's buyout is expected by Monday, though he will reportedly coach Maryland in its bowl game Dec. 29. It remains unclear when a deal might be reached with Leach, who has indirect -- but perhaps strong -- ties to Maryland's football program via his relationship with Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. Maryland is the flagship program for Plank's thriving sportswear brand; Plank, a former Maryland football player who is heavily involved with the program, could help broker the deal both in terms of negotiations and financial support.
Several sources said Friedgen has taken the news hard, and it remains unclear whether he'll retire, take an administrative job at Maryland or seek other coaching opportunities.
Friedgen's buyout was set in motion when Terps offensive coordinator James Franklin, whose contract stipulated that he either become Maryland's head coach after next season or receive a $1 million dollar buyout, was hired to become Vanderbilt's head coach on Thursday.
Erasing that impending debt from the books allowed Anderson the flexibility to orchestrate the buyout of Friedgen, who was set to make around $2 million next season in the final year of his contract. Friedgen has pressed hard for an extension of his contract, beginning shortly after Maryland's finished its regular-season schedule, a major turnaround during which the Terps finished 8-4 -- a year after an abysmal 2-10 year -- and Friedgen was named the ACC Coach of the Year.
While Friedgen was seeking security as Maryland's future head coach, so, too, was Franklin.The 38-year old offensive coordinator lobbied Anderson privately for the job according to sources, telling him he wouldn't return next season without assurances he'd be the coach in 2012.
Sources also said that former Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow -- now in the same job at North Carolina State -- called Maryland officials several times early last week to lobby for Franklin.
It was Yow who had given Franklin the coach-in-waiting deal in February of last year, and later made failed attempts to raise money for a buyout of Friedgen -- with whom her relationship had grown increasingly contentious -- after the 2009 season.
Friedgen agreed to the coach-in-waiting deal grudgingly, expressing to Yow that he wasn't necessarily ready to retire after the 2011 season. The Baltimore Sun reported this week that Friedgen believed he had a verbal agreement with Yow that he'd be able to stay on as coach after the 2010 season if he wanted to, but no such language is in his or Franklin's contract.
Sources said many inside the program felt Yow designed the contract as a means of forcing out Friedgen, a Maryland alum whom she hired in Nov. 2000. The coach won 31 games in his first three years, a massive turnaround given the program's longstanding slump; in the 15 years prior to his arrival, the Terps went to one bowl game and posted a 60-103-3 record, often playing in front of woefully thin crowds at Byrd Stadium.
Fan interest was rejuvenated by Friedgen's hot start and in 2007, Yow announced plans for major renovations to the stadium, including the addition of 64 luxury suites. But the timing was poor; the economy had begun to falter and the Terps went 14-22 the following three seasons. Meantime, the relationship between Yow and Friedgen disintegrated as the two continually disagreed over the use of funds raised by the football program's booster club, among other things.
Spurred in large part by a sensational freshman season from quarterback Danny O'Brien, Maryland surprised many by going 8-4 this year, falling one win short of reaching the ACC championship game. But attendance continued to lag -- the Terps averaged 39,168 fans in their six home games this season, about 73 percent of the 54,000 capacity for Byrd Stadium -- and as a result of the waning fan support, major bowl game organizers passed on the Terps. Anderson accepted a bid from the Military Bowl, a third-year bowl Dec. 29 at R.F.K. stadium in the District, in which the Terrapins will face East Carolina.
Shortly thereafter Franklin began to make a push for the head coach job, reportedly telling Anderson he wouldn't return to Maryland next year without a guarantee the job would be his in 2012. Anderson, sources said, suggested that Franklin seek employment elsewhere.
He'd all but agreed to a deal with Vanderbilt early this week after Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn passed on the job, but the process dragged through the week before it was announced officially Friday.
Assistant coaches who accept head coaching jobs elsewhere often bring along with them multiple colleagues, but sources said none of Maryland's assistants has yet accepted an offer from Franklin. They're waiting to see what happens at Maryland, it seems.
A mass exodus to Vanderbilt appears unlikely. Wide receivers coach Lee Hull, special teams/tight ends coach Charles Bankins and running backs coach John Donovan appear likeliest to join Franklin. Franklin has offered a job to Terps defensive coordinator Don Brown, whose unit also contributed greatly to the turnaround.
With the uncertainty resulting from the loss of Franklin -- the staff's lead local recruiter -- and the impending announcement of Friedgen's departure, Maryland's recruiting class could change considerably until a new staff is in place. Sources said Anderson understand this and plans to move quickly. In the meantime, recruiting continued this weekend, with the assistant coaches managing to lure a handful of highly sought prospects to College Park despite the uncertainty.
One attendee at the recruiting weekend -- organized by recruiting coordinator Dave Sollazzo and assistant recruiting coordinator Ryan Steinberg -- said that there was some confusion, but that the coaches were moving forward as though they'll remain at the school and continuing to promote to recruits the university's merits as a whole.
With attendance waning and a 63-year-old coach seen as having an uncertain future, Anderson reviewed the situation and determined it was time to make a change if financially feasible. Despite efforts by Friedgen and Franklin -- and, apparently, Yow -- to lobby for the job, Anderson let Franklin leave and pressed forward, buoyed by the extra $1 million he won't have to pay Franklin per his contract.
Leach told the Washington Post that he has not been contacted yet by Anderson. He appears to be Anderson's No. 1 choice, however, and has publicly expressed his desire to return to coaching.
It remains to be seen whether or not the university will sign off -- or has already done so -- on Leach, an outspoken Pepperdine law school graduate who also has filed a libel suit against ESPN, for reporting he'd locked wide receiver Adam James in a closet.
James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James, later said the door wasn't actually locked, and that at one point, he “thought the idea of it was funny.”
With additional reporting by Seth Hoffman.
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