Why is Maryland sticking with Friedgen?

I’ve been pondering Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow’s decision to bring back head football coach Ralph Friedgen after losing a school-record 10 games this season. Putting aside Yow’s good relationship with Friedgen and her perceived uneasiness with head basketball coach Gary Williams—who won a national championship at the school—one can look at Friedgen’s 66-46 career record at Maryland and make a pretty good argument for both a vote of confidence and his dismissal.

In the announcement, Friedgen asked Maryland fans to "keep the faith" and vowed that the “future’s pretty bright” with a young offensive nucleus returning next season.

It’s safe to say that 2010 will be a make-or-break year for Friedgen, who initially took College Park by storm in his first three years but has since fallen on hard times.

While the Terrapins have suffered four losing seasons in the past six years, Friedgen backers can argue that he did make them bowl-eligible six times in his nine years on campus — with four victories.

Since his third of three consecutive double-digit-win seasons in 2003, however, he’s a troubling 35-38. Yet in the 10 years before his arrival at Maryland, the school went 37-73 under three different head coaches.

But how alarming is it to think that Friedgen went 31-8 with an ACC championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl after three seasons, only to be so mediocre for the six years that have followed?

Looking back at the 2009 campaign, clearly something went awry — and perhaps has been going awry for the last couple of years.

What we do know is that the team finished the season on a seven-game skid, senior QB Chris Turner was unable to provide the leadership necessary for a young offense, and star junior RB Da’Rel Scott battled a wrist injury for much of the year, deeply affecting the rushing attack.

We also know there should be no reason for an opening-game 52-13 debacle to Cal, a loss to Middle Tennessee State after a near-loss to James Madison and a bad home loss to Virginia.

It’s funny how Friedgen’s early success at his alma mater may eventually be his demise, as his early Orange Bowl appearance sent fans’ expectations soaring. Maryland football can be a consistent program, but that consistency is most likely in the range of eight to nine wins per season. While the Champs Sports Bowl may not have the appeal of an Orange Bowl, it does give the players and coaches a reward for a successful season in a BCS conference.

Perhaps just as big a problem as the lack of wins the last few seasons, however, has been the dwindling attendance at expanded Byrd Stadium. After expectations were heightened, pocketbooks opened in the administration and 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.

It’s quite possible that the Maryland brass decided to keep the 62-year-old Friedgen only to not have to pay a buyout of about $4.5 million on the remaining two years of his contract, plus a potential $1 million if designated successor James Franklin was also dismissed. All that money spent on two coaches before hiring a new one? Quite expensive.

I do think bringing back Friedgen for one more year — and one year only if things stay bad — is the right move. After all, his youngsters will have a chance to put this trying year behind him.

If things stay awful in College Park, though, is Franklin the answer?

Just another coach-in-waiting situation at a BCS-level institution — a highly charged topic of debate for another day.

Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave.

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