Whether Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen returns for a 10th season next year remains uncertain. He declined to discuss his job status this week, and athletic director Debbie Yow maintained her policy of not publicly talking about coaching situations until an end-of-season evaluation.
If he were to return, though, Friedgen would face a situation few have thrived in over the last two decades - recovering from a truly rough season relatively deep into his tenure. The Terrapins are 2-9 entering Saturday’s finale against Boston College at Byrd Stadium.
From 1990 to 2008, coaches in BCS conferences (and their forerunners) who were in their jobs for at least four years have combined for 40 seasons of at least nine losses. Of those, only 17 returned for another season.
On the flip side, just one of those coaches - N.C. State’s Chuck Amato in 2006 - was dismissed with a winning overall career record. Friedgen is 66-45 at Maryland.
So what can be done to ensure a bounce-back is possible?
“One thing that helps you rebound is the support of an athletic director and president who have guts enough to stick with you through that process,” said Fred Goldsmith, who coached Duke for one more season after going 2-9 in his fourth year. “For the most part, if you’ve ever won, you know what you’re doing. If you’ve got a good staff and they’re supportive to do the things you need in a program, then you can rebound.”
Support is so often rooted in patience. Goldsmith - now the coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne - recalled a point in the early 1990s when he was still at Rice and one of his assistants interviewed for a job at Virginia Tech but opted not to take it because of the uncertainty surrounding Frank Beamer.
Ultimately, the Hokies stuck with Beamer, and he has rattled off 17 straight winning seasons - including appearances in three Orange Bowls and three Sugar Bowls - since a 2-8-1 season in 1992. Whether a sixth-year coach with a 24-40-2 record could survive in the present - as Beamer did - is questionable.
“People are very impatient and they want results quickly,” Beamer said. “I think the way it is with the Internet, the way it is with talk shows, with more money involved in coaches’ salaries. I think everything kind of speeded up, not only in the NFL but in college football, too.”
There are instructive lessons in both the coaches who survived choppy late-tenure seasons and those who also flourished afterward.
Kentucky’s Bill Curry (1994) and Iowa State’s Dan McCarney (2003) snapped long bowl droughts for their schools before rough seasons, and McCarney rebounded for a pair of bowl berths afterward. Friedgen ended Maryland’s decade-long run of postseason absences and reached six bowls in his first eight seasons.
Perhaps the best examples of the value of patience and the ability to overcome a harsh season are the arcs Penn State’s Joe Paterno and former Washington State coach Mike Price took after rough patches.
Paterno endured a blip, including a 3-9 season in 2003, but is 54-20 since then and has the most all-time wins of major college football coaches. Price dealt with some tough years late last decade but soon produced consecutive 10-win seasons before moving on to Alabama (briefly) and Texas-El Paso.
Friedgen is one of the most accomplished coaches to deal with such a season so far into the job in the last two decades. Only Paterno and Mississippi State’s Jackie Sherrill (2002) also had at least six bowl berths in their tenure.