- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The future of the Maryland football program remained in flux Monday as coach Ralph Friedgen and athletic director Debbie Yow met for the second straight day to discuss a team coming off a 2-10 season.

Whether Friedgen returns for a 10th season is still to be determined as he and Yow assess a program that set a school record for losses in a year. There’s little doubt, though, the uncertainty surrounding the Terrapins will hinder the team’s recruiting effort in the short term - and perhaps longer.

“If you have a stable situation, nine times out of 10 unless your coaching staff isn’t doing a great job of beating the bush, you’re going to be able to attract talent and be able to recruit,” ESPN.com recruiting analyst JC Shurburtt said. “When you have a situation like you do at Maryland with the reports and talk out there, it causes instability, or the perception of it. That can damage a recruiting class worse than just about anything.”

The greatest problems, though, might not develop for more than a year because of the speed of the recruiting process. Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said a Maryland pledge such as offensive lineman Sal Conaboy would be a target for schools like Penn State, Pittsburgh or Rutgers to swoop in on except that those programs are either done or almost done securing commitments for that unit.

Farrell said the Maryland commits that other programs would be most likely to poach are defensive end/linebacker David Mackall, who signed with the Terps last year but is prepping at Fork Union Military Academy, and defensive back Titus Till of Upper Marlboro, whom Rivals.com ranks as the No. 3 prospect in Maryland.

Till is the only top-20 in-state player committed to Maryland, which has the 36th-ranked 2010 class nationally according to Rivals.com.

Friedgen has two years and about $4 million remaining on his deal, and financial concerns could be a factor if Yow opts to retain him. But Friedgen (who is 66-46 with six bowl appearances in his career) would still face a tenuous situation while trying to attract talent for his 2011 class, since he could potentially leave Maryland before that group even signs.

“For three weeks when you name a new coach or search for one like Notre Dame and Virginia will, that’s a holding pattern,” Farrell said. “When you go through a year where you know the coach is not going to be back and the school is just waiting for the financial situation to clear up, that’s bad. That’ll kill your program right there.”

A similar situation unfolded at Virginia, where Al Groh faced questions about his job security a year ago after the Cavaliers posted a losing record for the second time in three years. Virginia went 3-9 this fall and on Sunday fired Groh, who will received $4.33 million for the final two years of his deal.

Virginia’s 2010 class consists of 11 players and ranks just 65th in the country and last in the ACC.

“Everybody was expecting him to go. It was that way last year, and it was this year,” Farrell said. “Look at the situation they’re in now. Their recruiting is just awful. They’re getting killed. Everybody is preying on the weak. Even if [Friedgen] does stay, that might not be the best thing overall.”

Should Friedgen remain, it is possible he will make staff changes. Only two assistants - offensive coordinator James Franklin and defensive coordinator Don Brown - are signed beyond June 30.

Franklin, who is owed $1 million if he is not named the head coach by January 2012, also carries great value in recruiting - which would seem to further minimize the chances he departs.

“I think if you’re Maryland and you do shuffle out the head coach-in-waiting rather than the head coach, I do think that causes that stability to erode and a picture to be painted as to an uncertain future,” Shurburtt said. “Anytime you lose a guy off your staff that does have a good reputation among recruits and families and builds those relationships, it could definitely almost be worse. It’s almost like pulling the foundation and the safety net away from your program.”

Even with a head coach-in-waiting in place, the Terps’ future is murky. Few coaches can successfully recruit with just two years remaining on their contract, and Friedgen will clearly be on the spot to produce next season if he is permitted to return.

Then there’s Maryland’s recent track record. The Terps are 35-38 over the last six seasons, with four sub-.500 years included in the stretch. That, like the instability engulfing the program, isn’t attractive to recruits, either.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of recruiting effort,” Farrell said. “I know some of those guys are very persistent and tenacious. You just can’t sell losses. … I just think if they’re going to make a move this time next year, they might as well do it now.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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