Tackling a big question: Maryland's lack of coverage

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This is an entry I was a bit reluctant to write. It makes the ever-referenced “media” the story, but on a day when there was a blog on open/closed practices at Maryland, it made sense to toss this one out there now and make it one big self-referential festival.

Like many fan bases, Maryland supporters teeter at times on the belief the media is out to get them. The media is too negative. The media is biased. All that fun stuff that portions of every group of fans are sure to say.

In recent months, the complaints have bordered more on lack of coverage, and to be fair to fans, they’re not out of line. At the same time, there is varying tumult at the newspapers that cover Maryland, with beats changing hands and being split up at both the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.

There’s also the omnipresent lousy economics of the newspaper business these days; part of those woes stem from the fact you can read this and nearly anything else produced for most newspapers without paying a cent, but that’s an argument for another day.

The bottom line is this: A case can be made Maryland has the least covered football team from large, public university in a BCS conference.

During a typical Thursday session during the season, there are three daily papers (Sun, Post, Times), two Internet reporters (rivals and scout) and one student reporter (Diamondback) in attendance. Here’s guessing in a place (a) more rural; (b) with fewer or no pro franchises; (c) that has a strong, deeply rooted tradition of top-15 college football; and/or (d) possesses a less transient population, those numbers would be larger.

But they’re not, and instead Maryland winds up in a motley mix with other schools, fighting for column inches with Navy, Virginia and Virginia Tech (a fan of whom I heard from this morning bemoaning the lack of Hokies coverage).

In basketball, there’s even more options: American, Georgetown, George Mason, George Washington, etc.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. And if fans get upset, well, it’s tough to blame them when their situation is compared to other schools.

What fascinates me, though, is how much Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen took up this torch on Monday on a few occasions without prompting – basically grumbling about what he must contend with because his staff works in just inside the Capital Beltway rather than toiling in Lawrence, Kan., or Athens, Ga.

To wit:

* “I’m in a bind now because some of the other teams in the league are going to do this and I’m not going to know their status and they’re going to know my status because I’m in the Washington area.”

* “I understand you have a job to do and you’re not always going to write something I agree with, but as long as it’s fair, I have no problem with it. But you have to do both sides. When it is good, you have to say it’s good. I think, quite honestly, we should get more coverage than we get in our area. I’m surprised you guys don’t cover us in spring practice. I’m so blown away by that it’s amazing to me.”

* “I want to help you do your job even though if I shut down practice I don’t know if it will make a hell of a lot of difference because you guys don’t write a whole lot about us anyway.”

OK, so for a major-college football coach, let’s just say plying your trade in the D.C. area is less than ideal because you’re going to be treated like a pro franchise and spring practice is a blip on the local radar.

(I’m not entirely convinced the first part is fully true, but will admit there weren’t a lot of reporters at spring practice. For complete disclosure, I was at eight of the 15 sessions in the spring. For four of the ones I missed, I was covering the NCAA basketball tournament. For another two, I was covering lacrosse games. That leaves one I flat-out missed with nothing else going on, and it was one for which there was no player or coach availability afterward. But I’ll take the hit for missing that one practice.)

But it prompts this question: If there was undercoverage, what sort of flukey benefits could arise from that? You could say some, uh, negligent behavior would be more likely to get missed. But credit Ralph on this – his players typically stay out of serious problems, and it’s obvious the big fella has put a premium on bringing good people into his program. That’s to be commended, especially in comparison to some other teams that seem like fixtures in the police blotter.

The other thing undercoverage might yield is diminished external expectations and less babbling about job security. Certainly, Ralph has plenty of that – about the only people in this country who would have eagerly signed his deal (accessible within two clicks of this link) would have been folks who are mentioned annually in Forbes magazine.

So that got me thinking: Maryland has endured three losing seasons in four years. Ralph’s dealt with a few rumbles of whether the program has peaked, but they usually last a day or so before other things – the Redskins and Ravens, Gilbert Arenas’ blog, the Redskins and Ravens, the bad baseball teams in the area, the Redskins and Ravens, Alex Ovechkin, the Redskins and Ravens, Maryland basketball – quickly take the attention away.

So with some extra time last night and a bunch of books, I combed through all 119 schools that played at the major-college level last season. I quickly cut the group down to 65 schools based on one simple criteria: How many had the same coach every season from 2004 to 2007.

After that, the question was a matter of figuring out records for each season and in total. I’ve pared down this chart to just BCS conference schools – it’s still unwieldy at 39 coaches, but it is a completely fair peer group for Friedgen to be compared to (x-no longer in job):

Coach, School 2004 2005 2006 2007 04-07 (Pct.)
Pete Carroll, USC13-012-111-211-247-5 (.904)
Mack Brown, Texas11-113-010-310-344-7 (.863)
Tommy Tuberville, Auburn13-09-311-29-442-9 (.824)
x-Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia8-411-111-211-241-9 (.820)
Jim Tressel, Ohio State8-410-212-111-241-9 (.820)
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech10-311-210-311-342-11 (.792)
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma12-18-411-311-342-11 (.792)
Mark Richt, Georgia10-210-39-411-240-11 (.784)
x-Lloyd Carr, Michigan9-37-511-29-436-14 (.720)
Jeff Tedford, California10-28-410-37-635-15 (.700)
Mike Leach, Texas Tech8-49-38-59-434-16 (.680)
Joe Paterno, Penn State4-711-19-49-433-16 (.673)
Phil Fulmer, Tennessee10-35-69-410-434-17 (.667)
Gary Pinkel, Missouri5-67-58-512-232-18 (.640)
Mike Bellotti, Oregon5-610-27-69-431-18 (.633)
Tommy Bowden, Clemson6-58-48-59-431-18 (.633)
Mike Riley, Oregon State7-55-610-49-431-19 (.620)
Greg Schiano, Rutgers4-77-511-28-530-19 (.612)
Bobby Bowden, Florida State9-38-57-67-631-20 (.608)
Coach, School2004 2005 2006 2007 04-07 (Pct.)
x-Chan Gailey, Georgia Tech7-57-59-57-530-20 (.600)
x-Karl Dorrell, UCLA6-610-27-66-629-20 (.592)
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa10-27-56-76-629-20 (.592)
Al Groh, Virginia8-47-55-79-429-20 (.592)
Mark Mangino, Kansas3-87-56-612-128-20 (.583)
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest4-74-711-39-428-21 (.571)
Jim Leavitt, South Florida4-76-69-49-428-21 (.571)
x-Houston Nutt, Arkansas5-64-710-48-427-21 (.563)
x-Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M7-55-69-47-528-22 (.560)
Joe Tiller, Purdue7-55-68-68-528-22 (.560)
x-Bill Callahan, Nebraska5-68-49-55-727-22 (.551)
Randy Edsall, Connecticut8-45-64-89-426-22 (.542)
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland5-65-69-46-725-23 (.521)
Rich Brooks, Kentucky2-93-88-58-521-27 (.438)
x-Bill Doba, Washington State5-64-76-65-720-26 (.435)
Mike Stoops, Arizona3-83-86-65-717-29 (.370)
Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State3-83-83-98-517-30 (.362)
Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt2-95-64-85-716-30 (.348)
x-Guy Morriss, Baylor3-85-64-83-915-31 (.326)
x-Ted Roof, Duke2-91-100-121-114-42 (.087)

Yes, that chart is a monster. And I’ve stared at it long enough that you can just dissect it all you want and draw your own conclusions.

To be truthful, I was stunned Friedgen ranked so low (25th of the 29 returning coaches in winning percentage, 32nd of the 39 including those kicked to the curb after last season). Maybe that’s another shred of proof for undercoverage and an indictment of me. Who knows?

But if I didn’t realize Friedgen’s perfomance relative to his peer group was so middling, here’s guessing just about everyone else reading this didn’t either. And you know what? In an area that values its college football more, a fair number of people would have had a pretty good idea about all of this all along.

After all, the likes of Chan Gailey, Karl Dorrell, Dennis Franchione and Bill Callahan had better overall records than Friedgen in the last four years, and they don’t have a power-conference program of their own any longer. All four of those guys dealt with persistent interrogations about job security in the latter half of last season; Friedgen, not so much.

Is there so little scrutiny and squawking because Maryland football is far down the area’s media pecking order? Perhaps a little, but Friedgen’s well-negotiated contract, his role in selling suites at Byrd Stadium and his ability to win big earlier this decade at what was considered at the time a coaching graveyard loom larger.

But the marginal attention certainly couldn’t hurt Friedgen, either, and it forces you to wonder if such neglect hasn’t indirectly helped his program weather the mostly so-so times of the last four years.

Patrick Stevens

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