Ralph Friedgen inherited a Maryland program stuck in the college football wilderness before the 2001 season, a team with only one bowl appearance to its credit in 15 seasons.
Nearly a decade later, the Terrapins are postseason regulars. And while Maryland isn’t the national power it hopes it can be, the Terps are certainly much more relevant than they were throughout the 1990s.
Maintaining that growth is vital - and led to Friday’s decision to name offensive coordinator James Franklin as Friedgen’s eventual successor.
“That foundation needs to be protected, and it cannot be protected the same way unless there’s a person who’s going to be given an opportunity to succeed him,” athletic director Debbie Yow said. “It’s impossible in recruiting these days as people are being recruited in the ninth and 10th grade. We think it’s a good, common-sense move.”
So do several other major colleges. Maryland is only the latest school to designate an eventual replacement for a coach. Purdue and Wisconsin both have pulled off their transitions already, and Florida State, Kentucky, Oregon and Texas have established plans in the past 15 months to ensure an orderly exchange of authority in a critical program.
Purdue has completed such a transition twice. Morgan Burke, who worked in private industry at Inland Steel Co. for 18 years before taking over as the Boilermakers’ athletic director in 1993, oversaw the transition from Gene Keady to Matt Painter in basketball in 2005 and then from Joe Tiller to Danny Hope in football after last season.
“It’s new to athletics, but it’s not new to large organizations,” Burke said. “IBM or General Electric or Proctor & Gamble, all those have well-thought-out succession plans. If you’re the senior officer in a company like that and you didn’t have one, you probably wouldn’t be in your job long.”
Purdue’s football program is much like Maryland’s. Neither school immediately springs to mind as the elite of its respective conference, but both have won league titles in the past decade and are regular bowl participants.
Kentucky also is in an analogous situation. Coach Rich Brooks is 67, and the Wildcats soon found his age was used against them in recruiting battles. So Brooks asked athletic director Mitch Barnhart to explore a succession plan with Joker Phillips.
Much like Franklin, Phillips is young (45), an offensive coordinator and has ties to his current school (he is a Kentucky graduate). And like Franklin, Phillips is willing to wait to become a head coach, a requirement for making the situation work.
“It’s just been business as usual,” Barnhart said. “That’s what’s been so great. Nothing’s changed in terms of the way we do our business. Everybody knows it’s Rich Brooks that’s running our football program and standing up at press conferences. Does Joker do a few more speaking engagements? Yeah, he does. But at the end of the day, Rich is the one who makes all the decisions on what we do.”
Both Friedgen and Franklin described the value of continuity at Maryland, a place with a history of spurts of greatness interspersed with stretches of mediocrity and misery. There are some inherent challenges, including just three final top-20 rankings in the past 23 seasons.
No matter the reason, the Terps have not always won with consistency. So much like Kentucky, which has won bowl games in three straight seasons for the first time in school history, a succession plan satisfies the impetus to maintain the program rather than let things slip backward.
“When you’re trying to grow your program and trying to sustain the success you’ve had, I think dramatic changes in philosophy can be real detrimental,” Barnhart said. “This ensures we don’t have that. The philosophies and the thought processes tend to be consistent. I think that’s real important. Joker believes in what Rich has done and built here and wants to sustain that.”
Maryland is comfortable with Friedgen’s accomplishments and Franklin’s abilities. That provides a rationale for making a move that will provide stability in the Terps’ recruiting and on-field endeavors.