Ralph Friedgen was fired as Maryland’s football coach Monday, effective after the Military Bowl on Dec. 29.
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Friedgen received $2 million to cover the final year of his contract in 2011. Athletic director Kevin Anderson intended to immediately form a search committee to find Friedgen’s replacement, and acknowledged that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is on his preliminary list.
There’s been speculation for days about Friedgen’s status, and the possibility that Leach could be his successor. Asked about other names on the list, Anderson declined comment.
”Right now there is no leading candidate,” he said, adding that no one had been contacted by late Monday afternoon. But Anderson intends to have the position filled by Jan. 4.
During his 10 years at his alma mater, Friedgen went 74-50. After the Terrapins slipped to 2-10 last year, Friedgen guided the team to an 8-4 record, was named Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year for a second time and earned his seventh postseason appearance.
But that was not enough for Anderson, who decided against negotiating an extension for the 63-year-old coach.
”This was a good football team, and I believe it can be great,” Anderson said. ”And so we’re going to bring the best person in here to get to that greatness and sustain it. That’s why the decision has been made at this time.”
Anderson intended to bring back Friedgen for the final year of his contract until Terps offensive coordinator James Franklin accepted the head coaching job at Vanderbilt on Friday. After signing with the Commodores, Franklin offered jobs to several Maryland assistant coaches.
At that point, Anderson decided against having Friedgen as a lame-duck coach in 2011.
”It became clear that we needed to make a well thought-out business decision about the long-term direction and success of the football program at the University of Maryland,” Anderson said. ”Having a football coach entering the final year of his contract would have made it impossible to recruit high-level assistant coaches and student athletes to the program for the short-term.
”The decision I reached this weekend is about our vision forward, as well as solidifying our coaching staff and our recruiting efforts for the long term,” Anderson said.
Although Maryland enjoyed success under Friedgen, the team rarely played before sellout crowds and their fans were not perceived to be loyal enough to travel to see the Terrapins in bowl games. That’s the main reason why Maryland ended up in the Military Bowl in the nation’s capital, even though the team finished third in the ACC and was qualified to play in a more prestigious venue.
In a conversation last week with members of the current team, Anderson understood the compassion the players felt toward their coach. But he also got the impression they were angry over the process that landed Maryland in the Military Bowl, and that the players liked the idea of getting a coach who could guide them to greatness.
”You know what they shared with me? They said they want to be at a point where they determine their own destiny,” Anderson said. ”They never want to put it in someone else’s hands again to determine what bowl they go to. They told me they want to go to the Orange Bowl. That’s the kind of person they want me to hire as the next football coach.”
The ACC champion goes to the Orange Bowl, which is exactly what Friedgen accomplished in his memorable first season at Maryland. But he never duplicated that success, and now he’s got one game left at his alma mater.
Friedgen did not attend the news conference, and did not respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press.
Maryland President Dr. Wallace Loh, who hired Anderson in September, backed the decision to fire Friedgen but thanked the coach and his wife for their dedication to the school over the past decade.
”Not only did has he turned the program around compared to when he first arrived, but they have given their hearts and their souls to this program,” Loh said. ”They are loyal Terps. For all that they have given to the university, we shall be forever grateful.”