Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen reiterated Tuesday that his attention remains fixed on the Terrapins’ season finale Saturday against Boston College despite speculation about his future.
While there are unresolved questions about whether Friedgen returns for a 10th season, he still has a game to go this year - and the cacophony of outside noise can hardly help in such a situation.
“It does become a distraction,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “There’s no doubt about it. I think Ralph has been [coaching] long enough just like I have that you know you have to go on. You have to ignore that as far as your preparation and your coaching is concerned, but it is a distraction.”
As he did Sunday, Friedgen declined to discuss his status Tuesday. The Terps (2-9, 1-6 ACC) would clinch the first 10-loss season in school history with a loss to the Eagles (7-4, 4-3).
Friedgen has two years remaining on his contract, and multiple sources confirmed the financial backing to buy out the $4 million he is owed is secure. Athletic director Debbie Yow repeatedly has said Friedgen, like all coaches in her department, will be evaluated at the conclusion of the season.
This year is easily the worst under Friedgen, who led Maryland to six bowl games in eight seasons before the current tailspin. Friedgen often has said he sees his team getting better, a mantra he reiterated Tuesday.
“We took our lumps this year,” he said during what was at times an emotional news conference. “We won’t be taking our lumps next year.”
It’s just a matter of getting there, and at the least that means getting through this weekend.
“I think it is harder to block stuff out, especially with all the talk going on in the media,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “I think our coaches are keeping us pretty levelheaded, and Coach Friedgen, he keeps telling us he knew what he was getting into when he took this job and let him deal with those situations.”
Still, there are countless variables a coach must deal with when there are job security questions, many not even dealing with himself. It was a situation Duke coach David Cutcliffe lived out at Mississippi in 2004, when he was dismissed after a 4-7 season following five straight winning years.
“The thing that’s most difficult is to lead your staff and players,” he said. “They look at you maybe a little differently when all that is surrounding the circumstance there. I can’t speak for Ralph, but I think all of us feel an unbelievable responsibility to our staff, staff members’ families, children. That’s what I found unsettling during those tumultuous times.”
Friedgen declined to comment on whether he wants to bring back his staff as it is next season.
In nine seasons at Maryland, Friedgen is 66-45, and he ranks fourth in school history in victories and winning percentage. The Terps were 31-8 in his first three years but are 35-37 with three bowl appearances in the six seasons since.
“It just seems the nature of the way it is nowadays,” Bowden said. “It did not used to be this way. Past success doesn’t seem to mean anything anymore.”
The unrest over Friedgen’s future is hardly unique. Bowden and Penn State coach Joe Paterno - the winningest coaches in major college history - both have faced criticism in the past decade.
“I know the kind of football coach Ralph is, but in today’s time, it’s what we are,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s going to happen everywhere. I started thinking about this the other day. I did my own little mental study - who gets to retire anywhere anymore? That’s kind of a thing of the past. Everybody ends up being fired.”
For his part, Friedgen spent plenty of time marveling at his team and how eager he is to see it mature next season. He noted only one of his scout team players accepted an offer to go home for Thanksgiving, far fewer than in past seasons.
“These kids have done everything I asked them to do,” Friedgen said. “Have we made some mistakes that hurt us in games? Yeah. But they work hard every day, and they come out, and they’re a pleasure to be with.
“I’m planning on being with them for a long time.”