Coach in waiting

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK -James Franklin, an animated, young Maryland assistant known for his recruiting and play-calling, was named yesterday as the eventual replacement to head coach Ralph Friedgen, whose contract expires in early 2012.

Athletic department officials said there was nothing wrong with the health of Friedgen, 61, who just completed his eighth season with the Terps. Nor, they said, was this an attempt to show Friedgen the door. Friedgen said he planned on serving out the rest of his contract.

Rather, the school said, the move was made primarily for two reasons:

* To be certain that Franklin, 37, who has attracted the interest of several college and NFL teams, is not enticed away from Maryland.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached by Raheem Morris, a close friend of Franklin's - both coached at Kansas State - had expressed interest in Franklin's joining the staff, according to someone close to Maryland and Franklin.

Asked about that, Franklin would say only, "I probably had three different opportunities at well-respected NFL organizations or colleges" but wanted to remain at Maryland.

* Friedgen's age - he'll be 62 in April - and rumors of his impending retirement could eventually affect recruiting if a clear succession plan weren't in place.

"Continuity for recruiting. I can't say that loudly enough," athletic director Debbie Yow said.

"The other is continuity for staff. Those are two really important issues, so on balance I think this is a much smarter route - to secure his [Franklin's] future."

Wearing a dark suit and red tie, Franklin sat between Yow and Friedgen as the announcement was made at the university's Gossett Football Team House. Franklin, who was a Maryland assistant during Friedgen's first four seasons and returned as offensive coordinator before last season, said "I always dreamed" of being the head coach.

"I can guarantee I won't let you down," Franklin said.

Franklin's deal sets no specific time for him to take over the program. But all signs point to the end of Friedgen's contract as the most likely transition period.

"We have a clause that basically says for James' sake that if it went beyond Jan. 2, 2012 ... he could leave" without penalty, Yow said.

Friedgen said that as of "today, right now, I'm going to go at least to my contract."

Friedgen, 64-36 at Maryland, recounted how a high school coach recently told him of hearing rumors of Friedgen's impending retirement.

The rumors, which Friedgen heard were spread by a Maryland rival, proved false. But, Friedgen said, "I think it's getting to that point where people question how long you're going to continue."

In introducing Franklin as a "coach in waiting," Maryland adopted an increasingly popular business model of naming successors in advance. Florida State, Texas and Oregon are among the schools that have named successors to their current head coaches.

Yow said she picked Franklin because he possessed everything she wanted in a head coach. Franklin, who is African-American, said he hoped "we can get to the point where this [race] is no longer a discussion."

There are seven African-American head coaches at Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including one in the Atlantic Coast Conference (Miami's Randy Shannon).

Maryland officials said talks about retaining Franklin had been ongoing almost since the day he returned to the school from Kansas State, where he had been offensive coordinator. His Kansas State offense averaged 285.4 passing yards in 2007.

Franklin, the quarterbacks coach as well as the offensive coordinator, has been heavily involved in recruiting at Maryland. The energetic assistant is known for his passion during practices.

Yow also called him a "relentless recruiter."

Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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