The 10-year career of Terps football coach Ralph Friedgen will come to an end Jan. 2, as Maryland announced today that it would buy out the the final year of Friedgen's contract for $2 million.
First-year athletic director Kevin Anderson repeatedly characterized the move as a "business decision" that became necessary when offensive coordinator James Franklin opted to take the head coaching job at Vanderbilt.
"That decision changed our coaching and recruiting structure," Anderson said. "Having a head coach entering the final year of his contract makes it impossible to recruit high-level assistants and student-athletes."
Friedgen, who will coach the Terps in the Military Bowl on Dec. 29 in Washington, did not attend the announcement and has not spoken publicly since his status became unclear last week.
Anderson said he and Friedgen engaged in conversations about the future of the program throughout the season and that Friedgen had requested a contract extension. Anderson considered that request, he said, until it became apparent that Franklin would leave. Anderson informed Friedgen that he would not give him a contract extension Wednesday, two days before Franklin was officially introduced at Vanderbilt.
According to Anderson, Friedgen looked him in the eye and said he understood why the decision had to be made. Anderson left the meeting Wednesday under the impression that he and Friedgen would come to an amicable resolution -- an exit strategy -- during a meeting Friday. Instead, Friedgen refused to voluntarily retire.
"I gather he had a change of heart," Anderson said.
Anderson said he will assemble a search committee and possibly hire a search firm later this afternoon. He acknowledged that Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech coach, is on his list of candidates but would not name others. He refuted reports that Leach had already been contacted.
"Right now, there is no leading candidate," he said.
Anderson hopes to have a new coach in place by Jan. 4, he said.
The AD deflected a question about whether his apparent flip-flop -- he had publicly said that Friedgen would return for the final year of his contract -- would damage his credibility.
"I've been in the business long enough," he said. "I have a reputation, and people know who I am and what I am and what I stand for. That will speak for itself."University president Wallace D. Loh said he agreed with Anderson's decision and the way he handled the situation. Loh made Anderson his first hire, he said, because of his strong values.
"He reported to me and told me what he was going to do," Loh said. "It matched the value we discussed a few months ago."
Loh did not take questions.
Anderson addressed several other issues:
-- He said he did not plan to honor Franklin's coach-in-waiting contract. "I wanted to have a national search," he said. "James would have have been a candidate. I told him I would not automatically give him the job."
-- While Anderson hedged on the "business decision" comment by explaining that the primary business of the department was developing student-athletes, finances -- or lack thereof -- clearly played a heavy role in the decision. But Anderson said he was not looking for a quick solution by making a coaching change. "We're all concerned with that," he said. "But the thing is, I'm looking long term. And if we do the right thing long term, we're going to have support."
-- As of now, Anderson said, Friedgen's entire staff will remain with the team through the bowl game (besides Franklin). He pledged to urge the new coach to strongly consider retaining the current assistants but could not guarantee them spots. Several are expected to join Franklin's staff, but they spent the weekend in College Park hosting recruits.
-- Kevin Plank, the former Maryland football player who founded sports apparel company Under Armour, is somebody Anderson turns to for advice, he acknowledged. But he refuted any notion that Plank would have special influence on the hiring process. Leach has long been connected with the Maryland job because of his relationship with Plank; Texas Tech wore Under Armour gear.
-- Anderson spoke to the recruits who were on campus and also fielded phone calls from others as news of Friedgen's ouster broke. "I asked them to trust me that I would bring in the best coach for them," he said.
-- Anderson said he reached out to the Terps leadership council -- a group of team leaders -- via telephone (most had already left campus) and that they support his vision for the program. Right now, they're hurting for their coach. "I appreciate how they feel," he said. "They understand and they want to move forward." They told him their ultimate goal is to determine their own bowl destiny next year and not leave it to a bowl committee. That means, basically, winning the ACC and going to a BCS bowl.
-- According to a news release, no state funds will be used to buy Friedgen's contract out.
From the news release: "The monies necessary to fulfill Friedgen and the current coaching staff's contracts will be paid entirely by the Department of Athletics, a self-support unit of the University that receives no public funding and must generate all of its revenue."