The End of an Era

Maryland AD Anderson announced buyout of Friedgen's contract

College football is a business, plain and simple. Never was that more evident than Monday afternoon when first-year Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson announced his decision to buy out the final year of head coach Ralph Friedgen’s contract.

Anderson called the move strictly a business decision. The department of athletics, a self-supported unit, would pay the $2M in guaranteed compensation and benefits in the final year of Friedgen’s contract through its conclusion in June of 2012.

The decision was made following offensive coordinator, recruiting director and head coach-in-waiting James Franklin accepted an offer to fill the vacant head coaching position at Vanderbilt University. The future suddenly became bleak as Friedgen was in the final year of his contract and his successor had departed.

“I no longer believe allowing a head coach to enter the final year of his contract was the best financial decision for our department or for moving our football program from good to great,” Anderson said at his press conference.

Franklin had been appointed the future head coach of the Terrapins by previous Athletic Director Debbie Yow. She has since left Maryland to fill the same position at North Carolina State University, which shed uncertainty concerning Franklin’s future.

After Franklin received the offer to take over at Vandy, Anderson told him that he would not be the automatic heir to Friedgen, and that it was in his best interest to conduct a national search with Franklin simply being a candidate. That conversation prompted Franklin to move on to Nashville, and made Anderson reluctant to commit to Friedgen going forward.

“With no offensive coordinator and chief recruiter, with the likelihood that several more assistant coaches would be leaving our staff, and with Friedgen’s contract coming to an end 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.

“We would have a hard time retaining and attracting coaches and student-athletes,” he added, if Friedgen was to serve for just one more season. If Franklin would have chosen to remain with the team, however, Friedgen would have returned.

A meeting last Wednesday between Anderson and Friedgen gave him led Anderson to believe the head coach had an understanding of his decision, and the two would collaborate on an exit strategy that Friday.

Somewhere between then, however, that meeting never materialized. “I gather he had a change of heart,” Anderson said.

On Dec. 29, the current and two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year will be on the sidelines RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., leading his Terps into battle against East Carolina University in the Military Bowl, his seventh bowl game. Four days later, his buyout will be effective, ending his decade-long stint with Maryland where he not only coached them a 74-49 record but revitalized a program.

Come Jan. 4, however, a decision is expected to be announced on who will replace him. Anderson said the future Terrapins coach should act in the interest of the long-term success of the programs, for the students, athletes, fans and alumni. His ultimate goal – transform Maryland into a regular Top 25 team.

When Anderson recited the traits he would like to see in his next hire – experience, a successful track record, someone who can consistently compete at the highest level – it was impossible to neglect how the resume of Mike Leach so thoroughly fit the bill.

“I have do a have list and Mike Leach is on that list,” Anderson responded to the connection between he and former Terp and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank have. “Kevin and I do talk but no more than any other supporter, booster. They talk and throw names at me every day and I listen.”

Leach is one of several candidates Anderson said to be on his list, but would not announce any others. He said neither he nor his staff had contacted any coaches, and as of today he intends to hire a firm to begin the search.

The current Maryland coaching staff will remain intact through the Military Bowl as well. Anderson commended them for persevering through the recent chain of uncertain events, and working well through a recruiting weekend.

He will, however, leave a decision regarding their future positions beyond Jan. 4 to the next head coach.

“I wouldn’t tell them to hire anybody, but I would ask them to take a good look at every one of them,” Anderson said. “I appreciate the job that they’ve done. They will get high accolades from me to the new football coach, but the person who hires them – that will be their decision.”

In terms of players, Anderson said no players have asked for a release. The Washington Post reported Danny O’Brien, the foundation of the Terps offense, would not make a decision on his future until a new head coach was appointed.

After speaking with the team’s leadership council, Anderson was confident players were in favor of the move considering their recent bowl game assignment. After completing a historic turnaround from 10-2 to 8-4, the ACC’s third-best team was elected to the Military Bowl, a decision that seemed to be based more on location and economics rather than record and performance on the field.

“[The players] want to be at a point where they determine their own destiny, and they never want to put it somebody else’s hand again to determine what bowl they go to. They want to go to the Orange Bowl. That’s the kind of person they want me to hire for their next football coach,” Anderson said.

The decision made by Anderson was well-supported by the likes of new University of Maryland President Dr. Wallace D. Loh. Anderson was Loh’s first hire because of his passion and commitment to bring excellence to athletics, and his values – honorability, accountability and integrity.

Loh felt Anderson’s actions echoed the university-wide objective to raise expectations in academics, athletics and the arts, and would be the best plan for Maryland’s future.

“We are stewards of this institution. We have duty to perform in the best of this institution, of the program and above all the students,” Loh said. Anderson’s focus on the long-term – “That’s what integrity is all about.”

Twitter: @samspiegs

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