Dec 31, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores head coach James Franklin exits the field after a win over the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the Music City Bowl at LP Field. The Commodores beat the Wolfpack 38-24. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
University of Maryland’s athletic director Kevin Anderson has been faced with many challenges since taking over for Debbie Yow. The budget deficit was one of the problems, but fixing a stagnate football program offered a long term solution to that problem. Unsold suites in Tyser Tower, increasing season ticket sales, and bowl appearances would help the athletic department get back on track financially, and that was the task dealt to Anderson.
With coach Ralph Friedgen coming off an 8-4 season and winning ACC Coach of the Year in 2010, he seemed like a prime candiate for a contract extension. However, offensive coordinator James Franklin, who was the head coach-in-waiting, would receive $1 million if he was not head coach of the Maryland Terrapins by January 2012. A new athletic director faced a tough decision on how to handle the situation.
Coach James Franklin took a head coaching position at Vanderbilt University in December 2010, which solved Kevin Anderson’s problem by eliminating the coach-in-waiting contract he had never been a fan of. Anderson was still left with how to handle the Ralph Friedgen contract situation. Facing a tough call, Anderson did what he thought was best and fired Friedgen, who had one more year left on his current contract. With both Franklin and Friedgen gone, Anderson now had the ability to hire a football coach he wanted in place. Ultimately, Maryland hired University of Connecticut head coach, Randy Edsall to replace Freidgen.
What If James Franklin Turns Down The Vanderbilt Job
It’s tough to say which event came first. Sure, Franklin took the job before Friedgen was relieved of his duties. However, with the indecision of whether to extend Friedgen or not and a new athletic director, James Franklin might have had more pressure to leave.
Now if we turn back the hands of time and go back to December 2010, coming off an 8-4 season and winning ACC Coach of the Year but with a head coach in-waiting agreement, Ralph Friedgen announces that next year will be his last year. As Debbie Yow had planned, Friedgen’s contract expires and James Franklin takes over as the head coach of the Maryland football program.
Since this was the planning, there wouldn’t have been any negative effects in recruiting. James Franklin was the lead recruiter for many of the players, and has a great reputation in the Maryland area. Given his connection to the area and success on the recruiting trail, he would be selling the vision of being part of the beginning of his era in College Park. There wouldn’t be any doubt from recruits on the stability of the program.
As for the on-field product, Franklin’s familiarity with the players and system would have been a huge help in continuing successful progress. Danny O’Brien would have stayed at Maryland for his entire career, although given his previous two seasons, I’m not sure how great that would have been. O’Brien struggled his lone year with Randy Edsall as the coach, and lost his starting job at Wisconsin after he transferred from Maryland. The case can be made that Franklin knew his strengths best, but at the same time his attitude might have played a factor his regression.
Maryland bottomed out as a program when Randy Edsall took over. There would have been some bumps along the road in the transition from Friedgen to Franklin, but the team wouldn’t have bottomed out. The familiarity with the program and system would have been a huge advantages for Franklin’s first two seasons. Worst case scenario is Maryland getting between six and seven wins and making a lower tier bowl, last year (Franklin’s first season). Given how Franklin recruits and the passion he ignites in his players, Maryland would entering this season (his second year) with high expectations. With EJ Manuel gone from Florida State, Maryland and Clemson would be the two favorites for the ACC Atlantic Division, with Maryland gaining an edge by having the game in College Park.
Long term, James Franklin positions himself for a great career in College Park. Given the lack of a long-term tradition for Maryland football coaches, Franklin would be set up to become a legend. Friedgen’s time in College Park started great, but he was never able to reach that level again. Franklin’s youth and passion would have helped him to build a long term successful product, while becoming the one of the best coaches in Maryland football history.
As for Friedgen, he left College Park on shaky terms. Had he controlled his destiny and left at the end of his contract, as agreed upon, I don’t think there would be as much resentment between Maryland and Friedgen. After leaving College Park, Freidgen openly criticized Kevin Anderson, and denounced his Maryland allegiance. The 2011 season would have been his curtain call, which would have helped ticket sales. Many fans didn’t want to get season tickets because of the stagnate level in the program, selling tickets as a farewell to Fridge and hello to the Franklin era, would have helped get some of the fans who jumped ship get back on board. Fridge created buzz in the program, and though he wasn’t able to maintain it, the sentiment of saying goodbye would have sparked local interest in the program.
What If Maryland Extends Ralph Friedgen’s Contract And James Franklin Goes To Vanderbilt
Next possible option would have have been James Franklin sees the writing on the wall that new athletic director Kevin Anderson will extend Ralph Friedgen. With Vanderbilt in hot pursuit of James Franklin, he leaves Maryland and the head coach in waiting agreement to become the head coach of Vanderbilt. Looking to save face with the alumni and build off of a good season, Ralph Friedgen gets the two year contract extension he was looking for. This would make the upcoming 2013 season, Ralph Friedgen’s last season as the Maryland football coach.
Kevin Anderson’s first chance to make a splash at Maryland would have been missed had he kept Ralph Friedgen. The fan base knew what to expect with his teams, and maintaining wouldn’t have created any new buzz about the program. Coming off a successful 2010 season would have given the program positive momentum heading into the 2011 season. However, as great as the 2010 season was, the team only made the Military Bowl — not enough to incite a wave of fans lining up to buy tickets. Fans know what to expect what Friedgen. The 10 win seasons and ACC Championship runs were a thing of the past. It would be tough to sell fans on team staying in the 6-8 win range.
Ralph Friedgen’s best days were behind him. Maintaining him for another three years would have given us further proof of this. On the cusp of being let go once would have hurt his ability to sell a long term plan to recruits. Even bigger, the loss of James Franklin would have hurt local recruiting greatly. Friedgen didn’t have the best relationship with local high schools already, and the way he handled the head coach in-waiting agreement might have hurt this even more. Had Friedgen stayed at Maryland, he would have had to rededicate himself to hitting the recruiting trail hard.
Personally, I feel strongly that keeping Friedgen would have been worse for Maryland. Kevin Anderson took a hit in popularity for how the situation was handled, but for the most part that has blown over with fans (side note: had Edsall not gone 2-10 in year one, then everyone would forget how the Friedgen firing happened). Friedgen had used a successful period with another coach’s recruits as leverage for a big contract, but then never lived up to the hype.
Fans felt indifferent about Maryland football, there was excitement when the season started, but never enough to fill Byrd Stadium weekly. Bowl committees knew this as well, which hurt Maryland’s chances at appearing in the ACC’s upper-tier bowls. Maryland’s football future would rest in the hands of a 63-year old coach rededicating himself to the recruiting trail and changing a fan bases perception of his program. Sorry, but I don’t buy that happening. In the three additional years of Ralph Freidgen, Maryland fails to reach the level of the 2010 season, which in many ways is sad given that they played a bottom-tier ACC bowl game.
For Part II, read along here.