Fresh heir: UM eyes bright future under Franklin

The Baltimore Sun

By announcing a plan of succession for coach Ralph Friedgen, Maryland football is following in the footsteps of, among other schools, Florida State and Texas. Pretty heady company for a program whose team field house is adorned by a sign honoring it for making it to last season's Roady's Humanitarian Bowl.

But in order to be big, you have to think big, and nothing defines the tenure of athletic director Debbie Yow - who joined the current coach and his heir apparent, James Franklin, in Friday's coronation - more than thinking big. Comcast Center and all the expansions and re-branding of Byrd Stadium is proof.

If the football team itself, under Friedgen, hasn't kept the pace of the Orange Bowl appearance of his debut season, who can deny the program is better off now than when he arrived?

Locking up a coach like Franklin, and all he represents, now instead of chasing him later gives Maryland a great chance not just to maintain what was built under Friedgen, but also to take it further, back to where Friedgen had it in the beginning.

Back when it hired Friedgen before the 2001 season, Maryland took a chance on a guy who had been passed over often before. Just as important, it decided it would not shortchange itself anymore. Yow recalled the financial hole the program, and the entire department, was in when Friedgen arrived, and the competitive disadvantage that created, and said, "I have great confidence ... [that] this job as a head coach is so much a better position than it used to be."

Good enough that opponents think so highly of the Terps that they use negative recruiting tactics, spreading false rumors about Friedgen's future. Also good enough to keep a hot property off the market. One ugly scenario avoided by this: Friedgen retires in three years; no logical replacement is on staff; a drawn-out, expensive search takes place; and supporters look at Franklin creating a sensation at another school or in the NFL and say: "We had him! How could you let him get away?"

Instead, Maryland is ahead of the curve, with a young guy on the rise, and one who is African-American, which puts it ahead of most of the rest of the college football world. If and when the pressure to turn around those well-known dismal numbers finally pays off, the demand for Franklin would be off the charts - but he would already be in College Park, setting a precedent instead of following one.

Now, there is understandable concern among fans who feel teased every year by the team that Maryland is doing nothing more than assuring another decade and a half of Decembers in Boise, Idaho; Memphis, Tenn.; and Orlando, Fla., rather than Miami. The more optimistic view is that Franklin represents an injection of freshness that the program might need.

He will barely have turned 40 if he takes over upon completion of Friedgen's current contract in 2012, and even if Friedgen re-ups and delays the transition, Franklin will still be very young and in position to be the face of the program for a long time.

Franklin embraces that. "I will always be a high-energy, enthusiastic, positive person," he said, looking forward to the transition. "It will be slightly different as a head coach than when I was an offensive coordinator, than when I was a position coach - yes, it will. But I will still stay true to who I am."

Maryland is betting on it, at least three years in advance. It doesn't even consider it as a gamble. It sees Franklin as a sure thing.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

points after

* Debbie Yow seemed a little more comfortable sitting next to her football coach late last week than next to her basketball coach early last week. And by "a little more," I mean so much more it was downright comical.

* Preakness fans, you'll have to consume all your alcohol before you get to the gates of Pimlico Race Course. That should eliminate most race-day problems, right?

* It's true, NBA players never get criticized for marijuana use. Besides the entire past decade, when the league's image sank to an all-time low, they've gotten a free pass.

* First Kobe, then LeBron, then the entire Celtics team. The Knicks do know defense is legal, don't they?

* Now that the hoopla of college football's national signing day is over, stay tuned for Middle School Dodgeball Picking Sides Day.

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