Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Farewell to Friedgen, hello to the future

After ten seasons and a 74-50 record as head coach of the football program Ralph Friedgen will be coaching his last game in the Military Bowl against East Carolina. I felt that Friedgen would be back as head coach in 2011 because Maryland lacked the resources and profile to attract a top tier college coach to replace him. The dominoes began to fall when offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting James Franklin was told that he would not be guaranteed the head coaching position in 2012 and as a result Franklin decided to search for other offers. When Vanderbilt gave their head coaching position to Franklin and it became apparent that Franklin would poach from the Maryland staff AD Kevin Anderson felt he had no choice but to accelerate his plans to find a replacement for Friedgen. While it may not have been pleasant I think Anderson made the right move. Who he hires to replace Friedgen will clearly influence how people look at this decision but putting feelings aside it was the correct "strategic business decision" as Anderson put it in his news conference.

Once Franklin departed and took a significant number of the staff with him having Friedgen serve out the last year of his contract became untenable. Friedgen would not have been able to recruit any competitive assistants to replace Franklin and the other staff that would have departed and it would have likely ruined what has the potential to be a successful season in 2011. Extending Friedgen would have only temporarily alleviated the uncertainty around the program. Giving Friedgen more than three years was not an option and a shorter extension would have done little to help recruiting assistants or players. The only misstep that Anderson made was to announce that Friedgen would return in 2011 during the season. It was a mistake because it did not allow for the scenario of Franklin departing and taking staff with him. In college football these days a flimsy resume like Franklin's is no impediment to a head coaching position. Circumstances changed since Anderson made his statement regarding Friedgen's status for 2011 and he was within his rights and in the right to say that he had to go in a different direction a that point.

The economic reality of a football program that is losing money also forced this issue. Maryland fans, fickle though they may be, were voting with their wallets. They gave their thumbs down on the future of Ralph Friedgen by failing to show up for a pivotal game against Florida State with the Atlantic division on the line. Faced with a program that was hemorrhaging a half a million dollars a year the last two seasons and the debt service on Debbie Yow's expansion of suites at Byrd Stadium Anderson would have been irresponsible to continue in the same direction. For all the fans who expressed outrage and disappointed at how Anderson has handled this situation if they did not buy season tickets then they had a hand in this decision. Had fans come out in force for the last two games it may have gone a long way towards helping Friedgen save his job. They didn't. Anderson needs to hire a coach that will be better with boosters and fans while elevating local interest in the football program and creating a level of excitement that hasn't been felt in College Park in seven years. With the expansion of the ACC, the money structure of college football, the deemphasis of basketball in the conference treading water as a program isn't an option. Since the ACC title game was created only N.C. State and Maryland have failed to appear as winners of the Atlantic division. There is no reason why Wake Forest and Boston College should hold that distinction over the Terrapins. The football program needs to be both successful and profitable. Neither was guaranteed under Friedgen's continued leadership.

I guess I should not be surprised that there have been sanctimonious comments in the media regarding this move by Anderson. I didn't notice this outrage when former AD Debbie Yow tried to oust Friedgen last season but failed only due to a lack of money. If Yow had her way she would have gotten rid of both Friedgen and the reigning ACC coach of the year in basketball. Very few in the media, except those with close ties to Gary Williams, expressed much disgust over Yow's maneuvering. At least Anderson, while being blunt, has been honest with his coaches. The candor in his press conference about Fridgen not returning is a breath of fresh air compared to the conniving and back stabbing that went on under the previous AD.

Ralph Friedgen did great things as coach at the University of Maryland. Seven bowl games, three seasons of ten or more wins, an ACC Championship, he graduated a good proportion of his players and he revitalized a downtrodden football program. Unfortunately Friedgen leaves behind a record that has just as much on the negative side. The only 10 loss season in Maryland history, four losing seasons in the last seven years, no appearance in the final polls since 2003, a 3-18 record against teams that finished in the AP top 25 since 2004, a 24-32 record in the ACC the last seven seasons and only two winning conference records since 2003. Once things started going south in 2004 Friedgen developed a habit of throwing his players under the bus (Sam Hollenbach for example) or blaming everything from inexperience, injuries and even the weather to explain the constant losses in pivotal games. It is true that his first three seasons were the best three year stretch in recent memory, perhaps ever, for Maryland football. After his 2001 season he used to specter of the Tampa Bay Buccaners head coaching job to get another raise and then again after 2003 he pushed for an extension that will end with his buyout after the bowl game. Friedgen's constant haggling for raises and extensions won him few supporters at the university and he was paid handsomely for relatively mediocre results the last seven season. His lack of charisma and ability to alienate even his supporters certainly played a factor in eroding support for his position and in the football program as a whole. The last seven years of his contract were more than fair compensation for the first three fantastic seasons. Maryland isn't the kind of athletic department that can spend $2 million a year on a coach while the program is losing a half a million a year. Of the coaches who were Friedgen's peers when he arrived in the conference or coached a significant amount of time during Friedgen's tenure only Wake Forests Jim Grobe is still around. Chuck Amato, Tommy Bowden, Al Groh, Chan Gailey, Bobby Bowden, and John Bunting were all either fired or forced out of their jobs. In many cases they had better records overall or in their final seasons than Friedgen. Tommy Bowden never had a losing season at Clemson and went to 8 bowl games in his 9 full seasons. Chain Gailey had six straight winning seasons at Georgia Tech and played in an ACC title game before he was fired. After the 2003 season you could argue that Friedgen was the best coach in the ACC but who would argue that today? Should Maryland expect less than programs like Virginia and N.C. State? With no real powerhouse programs in the ACC right now why should Kevin Anderson look at the recent mediocrity and declining revenue and preserve the status quo?

If it wasn't for a lack of funds Friedgen would have been fired after last season's 2-10 debacle. The modest talent on that team should have at least a few more games but they were lucky to have avoided going 0-12 after winning in overtime against James Madison and squeaking by Clemson at home. The fact that Friedgen was given coach of the year for a turnaround that looked better than it was because of his terrible job the prior season seems absurd. Three of the five conference wins this season were against Wake Forest, Virginia, and Duke who combined to go 3-21 in conference play. The 8-4 record by Maryland is a bit of a mirage and speaks more to the poor quality of the ACC this season than it does about how good a team Maryland had under Friedgen.

Friedgen should be proud of what he accomplished at Maryland and fans should always be grateful to him for reminding them that Maryland can be a great football program. While there were some dark days due to some horrible hiring decisions by prior athletic directors Anderson should be aware that Maryland has a good football tradition and was very competitive under Jerry Claiborne and Bobby Ross in the past. I commend Anderson for daring to be great. Other administrators might have been timid and afraid to make a change, preferring to keep Friedgen and hope that the issue would take care of itself knowing they would probably not be blamed for the mediocre results. Anderson took a big risk and I hope he makes the right choice to replace Friedgen, for his sake and Maryland's.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fridge out as head coach, Anderson to hire Mike Leach

It has been the wildest weekend in Maryland football since the Terps beat N.C. State to go to the Orange Bowl and win the ACC in 2001. Ralph Friedgen was informed he would not be granted the extension he had hoped for after winning 8 games and being named ACC coach of the year. It now appears that Friedgen will either negotiate a buyout of his contract or be terminated next week. Former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach has become the target of AD Kevin Anderson to replace Friedgen. If Anderson is able to land Leach it would certainly prove that he is willing to take drastic action to elevate Maryland football beyond its current level.

I'll post my thoughts on the subject tomorrow, or as events unfold. In the mean time here is an interesting article by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post on Leach and the controversy surrounding him at Texas Tech.

Friday, December 17, 2010

James Franklin has finally taken the ...

James Franklin has finally taken the head coaching job at Vanderbilt and departs College Park with a mixed record. Many fans have latched on to the last few games and the development of QB Danny O’Brien as evidence that Franklin’s departure will be detrimental for the football program. The game against N.C. State was the best performance the offense had all season against a credible opponent. Against the better defenses on the schedule: West Virginia, Miami, Clemson and FSU the offense did next to nothing. Overall Franklin’s record as an offensive coordinator was mediocre at best. The 2010 offense was probably the best of the bunch but if you judge Franklin on his entire body of work it is obvious why so many folks in College Park, including AD Kevin Anderson were not sold on Franklin.

Franklin’s offenses ranked in the bottom half of the NCAA in virtually every category for all the seasons he was the coordinator. In scoring offense the rankings were 100, 99 and 42. Franklin never seemed to value the running game even though he had decent talent at running back. This past season the yard per carry in ACC games was 11th in the conference, in yards per game was 10th and ranked 94th in the NCAA in rushing yards. Certainly the offensive line injuries were a problem and you have to factor that in evaluating this season but his shaky playcalling against Clemson, Miami and West Virginia doesn’t indicate a coach that is great a preparation.

To be sure Franklin was the kind of package that most schools want: charismatic, young, good with the media and a black coach in a profession where minorities are woefully underrepresented. I always felt that Franklin had the whole package except coaching acumen. As the face of a program he may fit many of the criteria that athletic directors and university presidents are looking for but in the end you have to succeed on the field. Franklin’s resume was a little thin in that regard.

Maryland gets to keep the $1 million payment, the legacy of former AD Debbie Yow’s ridiculous head-coach-in-waiting contract, and move on with Anderson’s plans for the future of the football program. Clearly those plans did not include Franklin so it is better for all concerned that Franklin moves on now.

A modest extension for Ralph Fridgen is probably in the offing. As long as the contract includes a modest buy out that would allow Anderson the freedom to go in a different direction if the 2011 season is a failure I don’t have much problem with it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

One of my pet peeves in this early se...

One of my pet peeves in this early season is when sports journalists or TV commentators make reference to Maryland’s “inexperience”.  On its face it is somewhat preposterous to call a team that starts, at least for now, three seniors and a junior as inexperienced. When Gary Williams himself trotted out this fatuous bit of nonsense after the loss to Boston College I felt I had to correct the record.

Boston College started three guards against Maryland on Sunday: Reggie Jackson, Biko Paris and Danny Rubin. Between the three of them going into this season they had 49 starts, 20 in ACC games. Sean Mosley himself has 47 starts, of which 25 are ACC regular season games. (Note these do not include ACC Tournament games) That stat alone should explode the myth that this team is inexperienced.

Indeed it is true that Maryland’s bench is young and inexperienced but that is true for virtually every team in the ACC.
MarylandAverage Min last two seasons (ACC Games)Career Starts (ACC games)Boston CollegeAvg Min last two seasons
(ACC Games)
Career Starts (ACC Games)
Adrian Bowie19.8 (19.1)31 (15)Reggie Jackson25.1 (24.6)20 (7)
Cliff Tucker13.5 (13.5)12 (3)Biko Paris18.9 (15.3)29 (13)
Sean Mosley23.7 (24.7)47 (25)Danny Rubin0.0 (0.0)0 (0)

I’m not sure how anyone could look at that table and claim that Boston College had an edge over Maryland in experience. Jackson and Paris may have a slight edge over Tucker and Bowie but seven starts and five minutes a game over two seasons is hardly a clear advantage. When you include Sean Mosley, as you should, it becomes preposterous to argue that Boston College was the more veteran group.

It is obvious that Bowie and Tucker have failed to take advantage of their opportunity to start as seniors and have failed to provide the steady hand that one would expect from seniors with their level of experience. Both have been erratic and are in some form of a crisis of confidence with their games. Stoglin seems to be taking a larger and larger share of Bowie’s playing time even though I think he has less of the blame for some of the recent losses. Tucker’s role is more problematic because the alternatives are not as attractive. Pe’shon Howard has struggled on offense the last few weeks and his shooting from outside and the free throw line has been abysmal. His turnover % is also a concerning 34.3 which limits his effectiveness.

Mosley could give playing time to Hawk Palsson, who is a true small forward, without a huge drop off on offense or rebounding. Tucker seems to offer the possibility of more offense than Mosley but neither are playing an efficient game on offense. Therein lies the dilemma. There are not a plethora of great options to replace the struggling Tucker and Mosley. I’m sure Gary Williams is hoping that if he sticks with those two that they will break out of their funks and become reliable scoring threats. It remains to be seen if that will happen. Mosley and Tucker both have a history of erratic scoring and persistent slumps.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Terps stumble out of gate

Up to yesterday all the basketball team had proven was that they could be competitive against the better opponents they had played this season. There were no impressive or noteworthy wins, only hollow consolation in giving good teams a "scare" before eventually losing. It was open to debate what a series of close losses really meant or how illustrative those losses were about the ability of this group. The picture got a little more clear with a loss to Boston College in the ACC season opener. It is too early in the season to panic because the squad has failed to win a game against a equal or superior opponent to this point but the ugly loss to a mediocre Boston College team should make fans worry a little.

Last season the squad underachieved in th early part of the season and you could argue that the losses last season: Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Villanova and William & Mary were worse than the losses this season. Greivis Vasquez's early season funk had Maryland struggling but I knew at some point Vasquez would snap out of it. As great as Jordan Williams has played a dominant backcourt player like Vasquez will have more effect on his team. With this squad you have to wonder who in the backcourt will be able to run the offense and provide scoring from the wing. The struggles of Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Sean Mosley have been a hot topic after the most recent games. Terrell Stoglin has come off the bench to provide scoring along with some wild shot selection. What the upperclassmen guards lack Stoglin has in spades: confidence. At this point you have to hope that Tucker will snap out of his scoring funk, he has always been a streaky and inconsistent player, and that Sean Mosley rebounds from his dreadful play to provide decent scoring and solid defense. He is doing neither at this point. If Tucker, Bowie and Mosley continue their current level of play Maryland will struggle to put together the kind of ACC season that will see them return to the NCAA tournament for the 3rd year in a row.

The collapse of the defense was the most disturbing aspect of the loss to the Eagles. This BC team is essentially the same squad that went 6-10 last season and was terrible in many aspects. Steve Donahue had a good game plan against Maryland: chuck 29 3-point shots and push the ball up the court after made baskets. Maryland's defense was so horrible that this mid-major garbage offense actually worked. There will be many ACC games this season where the shots are not falling and the Eagles will lose. For its part Maryland made journeyman Biko Paris look like J.J. Redick as he drained six 3-point shots on his way to 22 points. In the 2nd half when the defense fell apart BC made 7/12 3-point shots and shot 52% from the floor. The rebounding margin that Maryland should have enjoyed also disappeared in the 2nd half as they grabbed only 13 rebounds to BC's 17. The Terps frontcourt should have dominated the makeshift Eagle frontcourt. With BC playing three guards and two small forwards for stretches that should have been a major vulnerability and it turned out Maryland couldn't exploit it. Instead the Eagles were able to stretch Maryland on defense and have them chase all over the perimeter without paying the price for a smaller lineup.

There were several critical stretches during which Maryland had a lead and could have given a cushion on the lead and probably put away a BC team that only hit 5 field goals inside the arc the whole game. With 6:43 left in the game Maryland had a 67-64 lead and stopped Boston College on three straight possessions but squandered their chances to increase the lead. Jordan Williams dominated BC for the whole game but Maryland took two jump shots by Dino Gregory and a missed 3-pointer by Stoglin before Paris hit a three on the other end to tie the game at 67. With a 2 point lead and less than two minutes left Cliff Tucker bricked two free throws that may have iced the game. Two possessions later Stoglin was fouled on the defensive rebound and missed the front end of the one-and-one, a virtual turnover, setting up Corey Raji to hit the game winning 3-point shot. A brutal stretch of basketball. Tucker then threw the ball away off an inbound and Maryland's fate was sealed.

I'm not sure where you go from here in regards to the rotations. Pe'Shon Howard and Haukur Palsson are the only real alternatives to Tucker and Mosley but don't have much chance of adding scoring over those two. Tucker's defense was abominable in addition and he isn't scoring at least he can play solid defense. The upperclassmen are in a crisis of confidence at the moment and they need to figure out their own game over the next few weeks because trips to Cameron Indoor and at Villanova loom in January.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Starting Five Hold the Line

After Maryland's 99-56 win over hapless UNC Greensboro it appears that the struggling starters, Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, Sean Mosley and Dino Gregory will keep their jobs for now. It may take some losses due to the slow starts that the senior dominated starting lineup before Gary Williams will make a change. To Gary's credit he values loyalty and that is a quality that Maryland fans can take a certain pride in the fact that their coach doesn't throw players under the bus like other ACC coaches have done in past years. It is probably worth noting that the current starters were all on the team when Williams went through one of the more tumultuous season's in his time at Maryland a few years ago when the team struggled to a 7-9 record but was able to get to the NCAA tournament. After that season Williams had made comments that the team "had his back" in the face of the most pointed criticism that Williams had experienced since winning the national title in 2002.

He also mentioned "the internet" in his postgame comments and indicated he was going stick with his starters even though he had considered making a change after the abysmal showing they had against Temple. I respect Williams' reasons for keeping the lineup intact. I still think the current starting five has demonstrated weaknesses that will become more apparent when conference play starts. As with the Temple game if this group plays poorly early in games, especially on the road, it will be very difficult for the team to come back against an ACC opponent. 

UNC Greensboro is such a poor team it is hard to take much from the game. But there were some good things to be taken from the result.

Jordan Williams is putting together a sophomore campaign as a big man that no one has seen in College Park since Joe Smith. He has already recorded 7 double-double games and has been dominating in the early season. The sophomore is getting more help from James Padgett who had six points and 9 rebounds, mostly when the game was out of hand but has been elevating his play the last few weeks. Padgett still needs work on his defense and rebounding but he's getting better and better.

Terrell Stoglin is continuing his trip to stardom. He was unstoppable with 18 points off the bench in only 19 minutes. He can put a tremendous amount of pressure on a defense with his outside shooting and ability to dribble penetrate. He probably dominates the ball a little too much on offense and needs to work on his ability to orchestrate the flex but he can score and you can't really teach that. It looks as if Rob Ehsan and Gary Williams his another homerun with his recruitment.

Haukur Palsson also played well off the bench and Berend Weijs is slowly getting better on the offensive end. Both will be assets as the season progresses.

Mychal Parker also got some decent time and showed that he has some impressive physical skills. Parker needs a fair amount of seasoning but Gary Williams has stated on his radio show several times that fans will be seeing more of Parker as the year goes on.

Boston College is a big test for the Terps as they appear to be a fairly evenly matched squad, at least at the moment. Winning conference homes games will be essential for this group later in the season so it becomes a crucial game.

Monday, December 06, 2010

News and Notes

Apologies to my loyal readers for the lack of posts recently.

Phil Steele came out with his All-ACC picks for football and I think his picks are usually superior to the media selections. Torrey Smith and Kenny Tate, the best players on their side of the ball, were 1st team picks at wide receiver and safety. Tony Logan also was named as 1st team punt returner. Logan had a nice beginning of the year and then tailed off as teams stopped kicking to him.

Linebacker Alex Wujciak got a 2nd team nod which is fitting. Joe Vellano and Antwine Perez both got well deserved 3rd team selections at DT and safety. Adrian Moten was voted 4th team at linebacker.

I think it is pretty clear from that list that the defense carried this team.

Maryland will play in the Military Bowl against ECU later this month. Disappointing for the players and fans but they will still get their bag of swag so at least that is something.

The basketball team had a loss in Verizon Center, which is a house of horrors for Maryland, in the BB&T. The loss may provoke some changes in the starting lineup. Freshman Terrell Stoglin is developing into a potent scoring threat off the bench and may get himself in the starting lineup in place of the struggling Adrian Bowie. It was good to see James Padgett also putting together some nice back to back games against Penn State and Temple.

I'll write more on the basketball team soon but even though they have three losses I'm pretty positive about this team and their potential.