Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow was piecing together details on offensive coordinator James Franklin‘s new contract this week when she was informed that football coach Ralph Friedgen was on the line.
In the frenzy of the moment, she picked up the phone and quickly asked, “James?”
“Nope, not yet,” Friedgen replied.
Franklin was named Friedgen’s successor Friday, offering stability to a program coming off three straight bowl appearances and six in the past eight years.
Franklin, 37, worked at Maryland from 2000 to 2004, then returned to the school last season as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He was approached last month about joining close friend Raheem Morris’ staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but opted to remain at Maryland.
“I always dreamed of this opportunity,” Franklin said. “I think I have a pretty unique perspective on the university and what it’s going to take to be successful here. Really our plan and our discussion was about continuing to build off the foundation Ralph has laid here and continue to build this program into one of the elite programs in the country.”
Between stints at Maryland, Franklin was the wide receivers coach for the Green Bay Packers (2005) and Kansas State’s offensive coordinator (2006-07).
Franklin also would become Maryland’s first black head football coach. There is only one black coach at a BCS conference school (Miami’s Randy Shannon) and just seven in major college football. Shannon and former Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell are the only black football coaches in ACC history.
Friedgen, 61, has a career record of 64-36 with three seasons remaining on his contract. Yow said Franklin’s new deal will also expire at the end of the 2011 season. It is uncertain how long Friedgen will remain on the job, but the succession plan ensures an orderly transition when Friedgen decides to leave.
“I’m going to coach as long as I feel like coaching and as long as it’s enjoyable,” Friedgen said. “James has been such a big part of our success here, and to me it’s kind of an honor and a legacy to have one of your coaches be able to follow you.”
The coach-in-waiting concept has become more popular in recent seasons. Purdue and Wisconsin have both gone through such transitions; Florida State, Kentucky, Oregon and Texas have announced similar plans.
One of the immediate benefits is the disappearance of questions surrounding the program’s future. Friedgen said a high school coach cautiously asked him heading into national signing day whether rumors of his pending retirement were true.
“I said, ‘Who said that?’ And he said, ‘One of your competitors,’ ” Friedgen said. “Well, Penn State was recruiting him, and so was Boston College. I said, ‘Well, [BC coach Frank] Spaziani is 64 and [Joe] Paterno’s pushing 90. You’re worried about me retiring?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ ”
Franklin agreed to a three-year deal when he returned to Maryland, and Friedgen in turn promised to include Franklin in several facets of a head coach’s life. For example, when Friedgen was on vacation last summer, Franklin sat in for him in meetings related to the expansion of Byrd Stadium.
At the time of Franklin’s return, Friedgen said the offensive coordinator could eventually become his successor if the Terrapins thrived. While sophomore receiver Torrey Smith said he was surprised by the timing, he broached the possibility of Franklin taking over with former high school teammate Dexter McDougle, who signed with Maryland on Wednesday.
“When he was being recruited, I told him Coach Franklin was probably going to be the next head coach anyway,” Smith said. “Everyone kind of figured and could see it coming.”
The Terps were 8-5 last fall and finished the season with a 42-35 defeat of Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl. The offense was inconsistent, much like the entire team, but it helped Maryland defeat four ranked teams.
That performance, combined with Franklin’s familiarity with the program and his prodigious recruiting ability, was enough to prompt Maryland to formalize a succession plan.
“Both [Friedgen] and I want to ensure that Maryland football loses no ground at all in recruiting or staff continuity,” Yow said. “Coach Friedgen has already established a foundation these last eight years, and that foundation is going to be protected.”