- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two things seem likely in this autumn and impending winter of our football discontent: The Redskins will have a new coach next season, and Maryland won’t.

Forget, if you can, that 2-9 record the Terrapins and Ralph Friedgen will lug into Saturday’s thankful finale against Boston College at Byrd Stadium. There’s no way Maryland should slam the door shut on the Fridge.

During his weekly news conference Tuesday, Friedgen waved off a question pertaining to his status and talked at length about how much he admired his greenest Terps squad ever, one with just 14 seniors.

Asked what words of encouragement he had for season-ticket holders possibly loath to renew for 2010, he replied, “Keep the faith.” Then, brandishing a fist, he added, “We’ve taken our lumps this year, but we won’t be taking lumps next year.”

That didn’t sound like a man who expects to lose his job. Athletic director Debbie Yow, sitting at a table nearby, didn’t exactly turn cartwheels at this, but we can only hope she agrees.

Firing Friedgen would be a wrong move for a university athletic program that is experiencing the same financial woes as nearly every other in the current economic downtown, to use a polite word. The university is not going to blow $4 million to buy out his contract, and there’s no reason it should.

People have used many terms to praise or disparage Yow, who is about to mark a record 16th year as Maryland AD, but nobody has ever called her dumb. The same goes for university president Dan Mote, who would have to sign off on any coaching change.

Sure, 2-9 is 2-9, no matter the mitigating circumstances. Was it only yesterday that the Terps visited six bowl games in Friedgen’s first eight seasons? Or only the day before yesterday that his first team at Terptown went 10-1 during the regular season, astonishing the multitudes and earning a mind-blowing trip to the Orange Bowl?

True, some supporters are grumbling; fans always grumble when their team loses six straight games. Jim Zorn is feeling the same sort of heat with the Redskins, but the difference is that Zorn has no impressive coaching resume to fall back on. (Not that it presumably would make any difference to Dan Snyder.)

It seems unlikely that Friedgen’s football smarts have deserted him sometime during the decade. Every football coach since Amos Alonzo Stagg has learned you’re only as good as your material - and Maryland’s recruiting has been at low ebb lately. Assistant head coach James Franklin, who is Friedgen’s designated successor beginning with the 2012 season, is in charge of convincing blue-chip prospects to cast their lot with Maryland, and he has made impressive strides. So the future should indeed be brighter. In fact, it almost has to be.

This will be Friedgen’s fourth losing season in six years. Since going 31-8 his first three years, his teams are a decidedly mediocre 35-37. But the folks who want to toss the Fridge under the bus, and possibly Franklin with him, are about as wrong as they can be.

For one thing, Friedgen is a Maryland alum who really cares about his school and his players. All coaches profess to do so, but many contradict themselves by hopping from school to school at the drop of a fatter contract. Did somebody mention Rich Rodriguez, who deserted West Virginia for Michigan in 2008, went 3-9 last year and is being investigated by the NCAA for possibly violating rules on the length of practices? Maybe somebody should.

The Terps tried hiring a handsome young guy with a gift of gab 12 years ago, and Ron Vanderlinden went 15-29 over his four seasons. Now he’s an assistant coach at Penn State and probably happy to have a job in football.

If you ask most coaches with a 2-9 record what they think of their players, more than a few disparaging comments might ensue, in private at least. Yet the way Friedgen talked about his tattered troops Tuesday, you would have thought the Terps were 9-2 - or better.

With a little smile, he said things like, “This is a special bunch. … I’m privileged to work with them. … These kids never cease to amaze me.” And when he asked how many players wanted to go home for Thanksgiving after Wednesday’s practice, “only two stood up - unbelievable.” Then, he said, one of those two changed his mind.

“I really enjoy coaching them,” he added. “I just wish we could do better. … Our next hurdle is we’ve got to find a way to win games.”

Somehow you get the idea he will. And at Maryland, if all goes the way it should.

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