- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2009

The end of Maryland’s long-since-lost season arrived at 6:34 p.m. on Saturday, and instantly thoughts shifted toward next year.

Never mind there’s a full month before 2010 officially arrives. There’s far more hope that the unknown of what’s to come is better than the misery of a 2-10 season in large part because things can’t get much worse than enduring the first autumn of double-digit losses in school history.

Yet the bridge to the future requires a decision in the present: whether coach Ralph Friedgen will return for a 10th season with the Terrapins.

“Whatever happens, happens,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “But if he’s gone, I’m happy to have had him as my coach. He believed in me when a lot of people didn’t.”

Determining whether Friedgen stays is the most crucial decision to be made in the wake of Saturday’s 19-17 loss to Boston College, which sent Maryland spiraling into the offseason on a seven-game skid. Friedgen is owed $4 million over the final two years of his contract.

Friedgen said Saturday he expects to meet with athletic director Debbie Yow in the coming days to discuss the program and acknowledged he had some ideas “from an offense and defensive standpoint that could help us” in the future.

Yow has repeatedly declined to comment publicly on Friedgen’s status until after the season, when she said she would evaluate Friedgen and his program as she does all her coaches. She also hastily departed Friedgen’s postgame news conference before she could be questioned about the program’s future.

It is uncertain whether Friedgen will be forced to make staff changes. Of Maryland’s nine assistants, only offensive coordinator James Franklin and defensive coordinator Don Brown are under contract for 2010.

Little, then, could be guaranteed beyond this: Friedgen wants to return next year.

“I put a lot of time in with these kids, and I want to see it through with them,” said Friedgen, who is 66-46 with six bowl berths in nine seasons. “We’ll just have to see.”

Friedgen grew emotional several times after what could be his final game as Maryland’s coach, crediting a team that lost five games by a touchdown or less for remaining competitive in the final two weeks when the Terps could have folded.

“Just look at some of the games we played this year, and they were close games into the fourth quarter and games we could have won and should have won,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “I think we need to take those lessons into the offseason.”

If Friedgen does return, he’ll have a team losing no senior tailbacks or wide receivers. Center Phil Costa was the only senior starter on the offensive line, though it’s plausible hulking left tackle Bruce Campbell could enter the NFL Draft even after an injury-plagued junior season. The linebacking corps plus Maryland’s kicker, punter and returners are expected to be back.

Quarterback Chris Turner, who made 30 starts over the last three seasons, is the most obvious loss. Friedgen said he already has begun discussions with Franklin on how to use more athletic options like Jamarr Robinson in ways that will open up the passing game.

Maryland’s most significant defensive hit will come in the secondary, from which safeties Jamari McCollough and Terrell Skinner will depart. Cornerback Nolan Carroll, who missed all but two games with a broken tibia, is also gone.

The Terps have 29 players who started a game this season who could return. Whether the experience they earned is the kind that fosters maturation or merely the sort that exposes inherent deficiencies cannot be determined until next fall.

Friedgen hopes to be around for it. As for the dozen scholarship seniors who played their final game Saturday, they are sure the future will prove far more prosperous than the present.

“I really feel like we’re just on the cusp,” defensive tackle Travis Ivey said. “We’re going through growing pains right now, and growing pains don’t last. I really feel the lessons we’ve been able to learn throughout the season will definitely benefit us in the future.”

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