- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2009

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen already knew the questions he would face during a recruiting event for high school juniors this weekend.

Now he has an ironclad response for them.

Maryland’s decision Friday to designate offensive coordinator James Franklin as Friedgen’s successor does more than ensure an orderly plan to bridge the two coaches’ tenures - it provides much-needed recruiting protection for a potentially vulnerable program.

“I’ll visit with maybe 20 players, and I’ll bet I get asked that question 10 times: How long do you plan to coach?” Friedgen said. “Now I can say, ‘I don’t know, but you know who the next coach is going to be. He’s right here, and you can see him and you can make your decision.’ That’s why it made sense to me.”

Friedgen is under contract through the 2011 season, and it’s typically a hindrance for a coach to have less than four years remaining on a deal. The coach-in-waiting scenario avoids the financial commitment of a contract extension but still represents future continuity.

Responsibilities are unlikely to shift much in the short-term, with Franklin remaining the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and Friedgen, 61, still making the day-to-day decisions regarding the program’s direction.

In many ways, it looks like a setup similar to the one Kentucky established last year. A coach in his 60s (Rich Brooks) remains firmly in charge, and the heir apparent offensive coordinator (Joker Phillips) went about his business much the same as he had in the past.

“It was the same to me,” said Phillips, who said he talked with Franklin about his situation last month. “The only difference was in recruiting; we didn’t hear anything about people using Rich’s age against us and saying he won’t be there to coach [recruits]. Everybody knew who the next head coach was, and it wasn’t being used against us.”

There’s little question recruiting is one of Franklin’s greatest assets. He was credited with recruiting 11 of the 26 players Maryland added on Wednesday’s signing day - including the highly regarded De’Onte Arnett, Caleb Porzel and Pete White.

The assurance Franklin will remain in College Park for an extended stretch will only enhance his appeal with high school prospects.

“There’s only a few programs in the country that have had a lot of stability on their staff,” Franklin said. “Being able to go into a home and that family is going to hand their pride and joy, their son, over to you basically to spend more time and have a major impact on molding their development, trust is a major factor. If they don’t think you’re going to be there and there’s not stability they’re looking for, that can cause a major problem.”

If there is a potential pitfall in any succession plan, it is the possibility of the future coach overreaching while the incumbent is still in control. Friedgen insisted he was in complete agreement with the decision but also said Franklin understood he might not retire at the end of his contract.

Phillips believes an open-ended deal is best for both parties because a coach might not be ready to leave at a predetermined date.

There is also a fine line to walk in recruiting since the temptation could exist to assure players they are talking to the man who will probably become their head coach. In a setup like Kentucky’s without a predetermined timeline, it’s impossible to guarantee that will come to fruition.

Those concerns aside, the certainty Maryland secured with finalizing a succession plan remains valuable. It also helps Friedgen, who will have a protege in charge of his program whenever he leaves, and Franklin, who would take over a major-college program a month shy of his 40th birthday if Friedgen opts not to coach beyond his current deal.

“I didn’t want to do something that was just good for James Franklin or just good for Maryland,” Franklin said. “I wanted to create something that was really a win-win-win situation.”

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