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Yow’s exit turns up heat on Friedgen

Facing make-or-break season, Maryland coach loses key ally. Dave Miller

Print This June 29, 2010, 02:00 PM EST

With Debbie Yow leaving Maryland to take over as the new athletic director at N.C. State, Wolfpack head coach Tom O’Brien knows that he must win in 2010 in order to have a future in Raleigh.

The 61-year-old former Boston College general has endured three sub-.500 seasons with the Wolfpack, compiling a 16-21 overall mark after a five-win season in ’09. Behind a dynamic quarterback in Russell Wilson and a defense that should be solid with the return of linebacker Nate Irving, going bowling should be expected for N.C. State.

For Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen, Yow’s departure from the school puts him in a similar sticky situation in College Park, especially after a disastrous 2009 campaign that saw the Terrapins lose a school-record 10 games and finish the season on a seven-game skid.

The Fridge took Maryland by storm in his first three years after a successful stint as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech but has since fallen on hard times. While the Terps have gone to bowl games six times in his nine years on campus — including four victories — Friedgen has suffered through four losing seasons in his last six campaigns, including the disastrous two-win season in ’09.

Since his third of three consecutive double-digit-win seasons in 2003, the Fridge is a troubling 35-38 in College Park.

Proponents of the Friedgen regime can point out that in the ten years before his arrival at Maryland, the school went 37-73 under three different head coaches. One can even look at his 66-46 career record in College Park and make a pretty good argument for Yow’s vote of confidence in him following last season.

But her departure to Raleigh changes everything.

Even with their cozy relationship — something that Terps head basketball coach Gary Williams never enjoyed with Yow despite winning a national championship — Friedgen was going to have to put together a solid season to even have a chance to come back in 2011. At some point, winning trumps everything.

Now, with Yow gone, president C.D. “Dan” Mote preparing to retire on Aug. 31 and a new administration on the horizon, the pressure is on Friedgen to deliver a successful campaign — much like one of the years he enjoyed early in his tenure.

And that’s going to be a difficult task to pull off with the ACC expecting a turnaround season following a year in which many members suffered embarrassing losses — including the Terps falling to Middle Tennessee State after a near-loss to James Madison.

Like last year, Maryland should be solid on defense. But the offensive side of the ball could be a different story — not because of a lack of skill players, however. Running back Da’Rel Scott and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon give new quarterback Jamarr Robinson some nice weapons to work with in his first season as the starter. Robinson is coming off a pretty good showing in spring practice, where he threw the ball well and took command of the huddle. But will he be able to stand upright behind an offensive line that, despite being a year older and more experienced, remains a concern at least until the real games begin?

We will see exactly how focused and confident the Terps are right away as they open their season against Navy. Even if Friedgen does take Maryland to a bowl game at 6-6 or 7-5, though, will it be enough for the new AD?

Perhaps just as big of a problem as the lack of wins in the last few seasons for Friedgen has been the dwindling attendance at the expanded Byrd Stadium. After expectations were heightened during his early successful campaigns, pocketbooks opened in the administration as the consensus was that the fan base was going to expand.

Problem is, nobody wants to watch a losing team in person — especially when the team is losing to less-than-daunting ACC competition. If the Terps start strong, will a fan base be revived and take interest in the product on the field?

It’s possible that Yow kept the 63-year-old Friedgen on board because she would have had to pay a buyout of about $4.5 million on the remaining two years on his contract, plus a potential $1 million if designated successor James Franklin was dismissed, as well. All that money spent on two coaches before hiring a new one? Quite expensive.

If the new administration decides to go in a different direction after this season, would he or she be willing to eat a year of Friedgen’s salary? Most certainly the James Franklin era will never take place, either, as the “head-coach-in-waiting” is in the same situation as the Fridge — a dreaded holdover from a previous regime.

Friedgen went 31-8 with an ACC championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl after three seasons in College Park, so his coaching acumen shouldn’t be questioned. But why have the Terps been so mediocre for the six years that have followed?

It’ll be interesting to see if Friedgen’s early success at his alma mater — the catalyst for the early excitement on campus — ends up ultimately being his demise.

Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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