Homertuck and I are having a bit of a public debate: he is a Ralph Friedgen loyalist, and I am a Ralph Friedgen radical. That's not to say I am arguing for him to be fired or really arguing "against" him; I am simply more critical and there was nothing else to call it. I do want Maryland to win, after all, no matter who's coach. Anyway, here's my response to his pro-Ralph argument:
First off, in college sports, everything goes back to the coach. The coach recruits the players, trains the players, and calls the plays for the players. When a player makes a mistake, it's the coaches fault for A) recruiting that player, B) putting that player in a position to fail, or C) not training that player properly. It's not like pro sports, where you can point to the GM or just get better players - you're stuck with who you have, and there is no GM; the praise and the criticism has to go on the head man.
That's not to say they have to blamed for isolated incidents or fluke plays (like Chris Turner's first INT against MTSU), because that's a bit irrational. But when a trend emerges, that's on the coach. And of course, a trend has now emerged. Maryland's turning the ball over at an incredible rate. They're losing games they should be winning. It's been all-around poor play, both offensively and defensively.
Four games might seem like a quick trigger finger to apply temperature to the coach's chair, but remember, these games are against teams like James Madison, Middle Tennessee State, and Rutgers, all at home. These aren't high-quality opponents.
Plus, this is part of a larger pattern. It seems like every year people complain about Al Groh and say this is finally the year he gets dismissed. Guess who has a better record than Ralph Friedgen the last five years? That's right, Al Groh.
In the past half-decade, including this year's games, Maryland is 34-31. They've attended just two bowls. Even with the flukey, improbable 2006 year when they were outgained by a massive margin every game yet still pulled out 9 wins, Friedgen's Terps are barely averaging 6 wins a year.
I've said this before: Maryland's expectations should be around 8 wins a year, with an occasional nine win season and an occasional five or six win season. No problem with that.
If Maryland loses four more games this year (nearly a foregone conclusion at this point), this will be the fourth season in six years Maryland has had a losing record. Is that acceptable?
Ralph has proven that he can win at Maryland. Three ten win seasons made believers out of us. He's proven he can do better, that he has the pedigree to succeed. The bar has been raised. The argument about how bad football was before 2001 doesn't apply anymore.
Remember Maryland under Bobby Ross and Jerry Claiborne in the mid 70s and 80s, or the Jim Tatum teams in the 50s? When, and why, did we willingly lower the bar from that? Why is lowering the bar met with less resistance than raising it?
He lost coordinators, yes, but that's still on him for not finding quality replacements. Maybe his troubles has something to do with his recruiting, which has been average at best. After all, those three ten win years came with Ron Vanderlinden's recruits, not Fridge's. The moderately talent-rich state of Maryland has been raided by Penn State, West Virginia, and Illinois, with Maryland picking up the pieces for the most part.
There's a pattern forming, a pattern of mediocrity. At some point, someone has to answer for it.
Here's another question: as a coach, where would you rank Fridge nationally? 50ish, probably? Well, he's the 32nd highest paid coach in the NCAA, raking in the same amount as Mike Leach. Has Maryland mirrored Texas Tech, who has attended nine straight bowl games in backwater Lubbock? Is Maryland a better program than Oregon? Is Maryland a better program than Miami, or Wisconsin, or Pitt, or Oklahoma State, or even Wake Forest?
To those saying Friedgen has earned the right to "turn it around", I concur...to a degree. After all, he did return Maryland football to where it should be for a few seasons, and got some energy back into the program. The problem is, you don't "turn around" a 1-11 or 2-10 season in a year or two, especially not when installing a new QB. That type of season signifies major problems up top, especially when paired with five years of perpetual averageness. If he could pound out a 5-7 year, okay, then he's earned the chance to get back to a bowl. But that doesn't apply when you have double-digit losses, especially in the manner Maryland is losing.
Again, if Fridge can pull it together and at least get five wins, I'll be okay if stays on another year, or even finishes out his contract, albeit grudgingly. More likely, Maryland wins 2 or 3 games, and there will be sufficient heat on Ralph's seat. If that happens, there will be plenty of discussion among fans and the athletic department regarding his status, deservedly so. Yes, he put energy in the program, but if this continues much longer, it might be gone by his departure.