COLLEGE PARK - -Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen survived a threat to his job and now faces the formidable task of turning a 2-10 team into a Top 25 program and deciding whether to leave his staff intact for next season.
There was more relief than joy as Friedgen, 62, described receiving a phone call at 9 a.m. Tuesday from athletic director Debbie Yow, with whom he met Sunday and Monday to discuss his future as the team's coach and how to move forward.
"She said to me, 'Are you ready to move on?' And I said, 'Yes, I am,' " said Friedgen, who arrived at the Gossett Football Team House on Tuesday to begin calling recruits to inform them he is staying.
Yow, who was in Indiana with the men's basketball team, said she met with Friedgen for "about 3 1/2 hours" during the course of two days. She described the meetings as "collegial, intense and fairly positive." And Yow said Friedgen assured the university and fans of his commitment to make Maryland a Top 25 team again.
Her decision to retain Friedgen capped a disastrous season in which the Terps became the first Maryland football team to lose 10 games while ticket and luxury suite sales slumped. Friedgen's contract, which will pay him $4 million over the next two years, became a hot topic around College Park after Yow said she would evaluate him once the season concluded. Some university system officials said buying him out with public or private dollars as the school faced academic cuts and furloughs was too sensitive in this economy. Some fans said a change was needed, although top officials in the Terrapin Club and Maryland Gridiron Network backed him.
Yow said Friedgen's passion to improve the football program played a part in deciding to keep him as head coach and that the economy also had a role. She added that injuries and the team's youth figured into its record this year.
"I think a winning record in the regular season would be reasonable at this point," Yow said of her expectations for next year. "Financially, we need to hit the budget number that ends up being established."
Yow said the athletic department's budget relies on ticket sales for sports such as football and basketball to help pay for the university's other sports.
"One factor was just thinking about the economic health of the department and what would be the better course of action to protect all of the teams," she said. "While [the basketball and football coaches] make $2 million a year, we also depend upon [those programs] to sell tickets so that the other 25 sports will be healthy. That's not a unique model - that's the model of Division I."
Friedgen, who is 66-46 in nine seasons at Maryland but has endured losing seasons in four of the past six years, said he is relieved to remain. He plans to leave on a recruiting trip today to Atlanta.
"I was concerned I wouldn't have an opportunity to right the ship," Friedgen said. "I don't want to go out 2-10. I'm a better football coach than 2-10. I think my staff is also."
Friedgen, who wore khaki slacks and a white polo shirt, said he hadn't slept well in days. His top assistants, who also had been anxious about their jobs, were busy setting up recruiting trips. Players wandered in and out of the offices, some stopping to tell Friedgen they are glad he is coming back.
Not buying out Friedgen "is a dose of fresh air - and sanity - in this whole thing," said former Rep. Tom McMillen, a member of the Board of Regents who starred in basketball at Maryland. "I just think about the kids who can barely make their tuition payments."
Friedgen still faces some trying issues, including whether to retain all of his assistant coaches and improving his strained relationship with Yow.
"I don't think the total story has been told," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said when asked about Friedgen and his staff.
"There have to be some changes in terms of recruiting," said Miller, an ardent Terps supporter and a Maryland graduate. "So we'll see."
In an interview, Friedgen said he would evaluate "everything" - including his staff and recruiting efforts, adding that Yow did not tell him he has to remove anyone.
"I'm always going to do what I have to do to make the program better," he said. Friedgen's contract, which was signed in July 2004 and expires in January 2012, says the coach "shall have the right to select and retain nine assistant coaches, subject to the approval of the athletic director."
Among his assistants is offensive coordinator James Franklin, who is contractually due to receive $1 million from the school if not named to succeed Friedgen by Jan. 2, 2012.
The program's goals are high. Inside the modern football offices, memorabilia is displayed documenting Maryland's Top 25 finishes in 2001, 2002 and 2003 - Friedgen's first three seasons. The Terps have not finished in the Top 25 since then, although the team has gone to six bowl games in the coach's tenure.
Fifty-eight of Maryland's 85 scholarship players have at least three years of eligibility remaining. In his discussions with Yow, Friedgen said he told her that "I think there's a lot to build on and really get the program back to where we want it."
Friedgen was hired by Yow before the 2001 season. His supporters say he has felt undermined this season by her lack of vocal support - publicly and privately - and that their relationship has deteriorated beyond the pressures of a losing season.
Assistant football coaches hired an attorney before the season because they believed they were contractually owed bonuses based on last season's record of 8-5 (4-4, ACC). The university interpreted the contract language differently and the bonuses were not paid, leaving coaches angry.
When asked to describe her relationship with Friedgen now, and going forward, Yow said, "I really wouldn't [choose to] describe it at all."
Friedgen also has offered little information about their relationship.
That divide comes 10 months after Yow's department publicly sparred with men's basketball coach Gary Williams over two former recruits.
Said Miller, the Senate president: "There are Gary people and there are Ralph people and they lash out at the athletic director, and it's wrong. She is from North Carolina, but her heart is with Maryland. I'm in all three camps. I like all three very much."
Friedgen said the uncertainty about his job status was warranted, given the team's performance this year.
"Obviously when you're 2-10, you are going to get evaluated," Friedgen said. "I've been in this a long time. It comes with the territory. We're expected to win football games and graduate student-athletes."
Ralph Friedgen bio
Hometown: Harrison, N.Y.
Alma mater: Maryland, 1970
Seasons at Maryland: Nine
Coaching record: 66-46
Bowl games: 2001 Orange Bowl (Florida 56, Maryland 23), 2002 Peach Bowl (Maryland 31, Tennessee 3), 2003 Gator Bowl (Maryland 41, West Virginia 7), 2006 Champs Sports Bowl (Maryland 24, Purdue 7), 2007 Emerald Bowl (Oregon State 21, Maryland 14), 2008 Roady's Humanitarian Bowl (Maryland 42, Nevada 35)