It's looking more and more official by the minute: despite the vague possibility of Malzahning Vanderbilt yet again, it's been separately reported by two different outlets - the WaPo and, more importantly, ESPN's Joe Schad - that James Franklin will be taking the Vanderbilt job, and both the Sun and Ralph Friedgen are backing up the reports.
There has, as of yet, been no official announcement, but things aren't looking good for the Franklin supporters.
I'll get to the potential replacements in a later post, probably within a few hours. But just looking at it the first time, this is one of the most awkward possible situations there could be. As everyone knew, Franklin being guaranteed the HC spot was awkward and had some very negative consequences. But his absence is just as uncomfortable, if not moreso, than his presence. Let's break down the consequences, shall we?
The Good Stuff
The contract is dead! Huzzah! As I'm sure you know, James Franklin had a $1mil buyout were he not to become head coach by 2012. Obviously, that made things...difficult, and it has become perhaps the focal point of Maryland football discussions over the past few years. The benefits of its absence are so numerous and varied that I need to list them:
Franklin is no longer next in line to the throne. You can say it's semantics, that he wasn't going to be the head coach anyway, but 1) none of that was certain, and 2) even if only in a figurehead status, it's kind of nice for Franklin to be gone if you didn't want him to be the HC in the first place. Unless something goes unbelievably wrong, there's now no way that Franklin becomes Maryland's head coach. Considering 85% of the people around (note: not "in") the program didn't want that to happen, it's a pretty nice deal for fans that still harbor hopes of the next hire being ground-breaking (that's me too, by the way).
Financials just got a little easier. When Maryland does come around to hiring a new head coach, they'll need some money to do so. With Kevin Plank on their side, I'm not expecting that to be a problem, but James Franklin's $1mil clause made it difficult to do what Vandy almost did with Gus Malzahn: attract a mega-top-tier candidate with lots of dough and the promise of unlimited program and UA support. If Maryland's going to make a run at, say, Brian Billick or someone like that, they'll need the dough to make it work. The absence of Franklin - and, more importantly, his million dollar buyout having been returned to the coffers - makes that easier to achieve.
Some recruiting problems were avoided. All the fans liked to say, "Imagine Brian Billick/Mike Leach/insertnamehere recruiting at Maryland. He'd kill." I was more guilty of it than anyone else. And maybe Brian Billick/Mike Leach/insertnamehere would do a great job. But it's important to realize that just because someone's new doesn't mean they'll be a star recruiter.
In fact, the next guy at Maryland would be fighting a huge uphill battle, at least locally, if Franklin was forced out. I'm sorry, but firing a young, personable African-American who is one of "DC's own" and supposedly one of the best recruiters in the country is not going to work out favorably. You can talk about his track record all you want and say that Maryland isn't landing them anyway, but if you have aspirations to land stars from DeMatha, Good Counsel, Gonzaga, Gilman, and so on and so forth, this isn't the way to go about it.
Some of the more sensible guys would figure it out and/or not care. But unless Mike Locksley or some similar recruiter extraordinaire found his way back to College Park as an OC, recruiting is going to hurt. Football isn't as political as basketball, but it's still political. Firing Franklin isn't going to win the politics. Now that he's left of his own volition, Ralph Friedgen or whoever else the HC will be in the next few years doesn't have to explain why the guy everyone liked got fired.
James Franklin is no longer Maryland's offensive coordinator. Yes, the Terrapins finally turned it around this year. But in Franklin's first two years, Maryland was in the 90s in total offense. And Franklin's...lack of creativity, let's say, in playcalling was well-known around these parts, even in good times.
Don't expect a sonic change. You'll notice that, even though Franklin was supposed to bring something very new and very different from the past decade, nothing really changed when he came aboard a few years ago. That's because Friedgen's still holding the reins to the offense and it's still predicated on him. In other words, don't expect Fridge to bring in a spread offense guru or a triple-option guy unless he decides that's the route he wants to take his offense in.
Still, getting some fresh blood in the playbook should help things.
The Bad Stuff
Unfortunately, as I mentioned in the first reaction, keeping Franklin kept Maryland out of a situation just as messy as the one they're in now. The bad consequences:
James Franklin is no longer Maryland's offensive coordinator. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Franklin was some kind of playcalling whiz. But considering Maryland's patchwork offensive line and the fact that they had a freshman quarterback, the performance on the year was pretty impressive. He had to be doing something right, even if only development, to get the offense to do so well. Plus, Friedgen has a bad track record with important hires. How much faith do you have in the man who hired himself (as OC) and Chris Cosh?
How will Danny O'Brien react? I'm not concerned with the fact that Danny was recruited and developed by Franklin. Danny is a Terrapin now and he is, by and large, a natural of the game with a great mind for it. He ain't leaving and I'm fairly sure he would've succeeded under any decent coach. I'm not saying Franklin wasn't important in those two aspects, but looking at them is doing nothing more than staring at the past.
I am worried, though, about the Jason Campbell Effect. Danny had Franklin for his redshirt and freshman years. Now he'll be getting a new offensive coordinator, meaning he'll have to re-learn all the terminology, all the new plays, how to connect with his coach, yadda yadda yadda. That's almost guaranteed to stunt, at least somewhat, his development in the coming year or two, as he'll be learning new plays and terminology instead of perfecting what he already knows.
The JCE is an accelerated process in college football because the careers are accelerated, so one coaching change is a bigger deal than it would be in the NFL. But imagine that Ralph Friedgen brings in a new OC this year and then hangs 'em up or, more accurately, is forced out. Maryland then hires a spread guru. And Danny has to learn his third offense in four seasons. That's the JCE, and it's dangerous. If anyone could handle it, it would be Danny, but it still has to have some kind of negative effect.
Recruiting problems have popped up, part one. So who's the guy who's going to recruit locally now? Franklin, in all honesty, did a decent job and, as mentioned above, had the political advantage over all but Larry Johnson, Sr., Locks, and maybe Brian Bossard. Something tells me that Dave Sollazzo isn't going to be an adequate replacement.
Speaking strictly in recruiting terms, Maryland's in a bind. They lost their recruiting ace-in-the-hole, and that spells trouble. The next hire cannot be a simple coaching one, because the Terrapins' staff will be all too thin in local recruiting firepower should that happen.
I'm not sure where Maryland's going to go from here. Franklin was about as lauded as you can get and handled almost all of the local recruiting. No one else on the staff comes close to that ability, and neither do most potential hires.
Recruiting problems have popped up, part two. Could Franklin take players with him? It's certainly possible. In fact, it might be probable. I'm assuming those on campus will stay on campus. But he was the chief recruiter for Tyrek Cheeseboro, Nate Clarke, AJ Hendy, Larry Mayzck, and Delonte Morton. Clarke, Hendy, and Mayzck are three of the top five commitments Maryland has so far, and Morton and Cheeseboro are probably in the top 10. Keeping them aboard will be key, because Franklin played a huge role in their recruitment. He's also been the primary recruiter for Darius Jennings, and his departure could be a death knell there.
Recruiting problems have popped up, part three. Ralph Friedgen has one year left on his deal. There's now no one to take his place. It's inevitable that a recruit will eventually ask who his coach is going to be in two or three years. I'm pretty sure that Fridge isn't a big draw to the Maryland program: he's an old, fat guy without a ton of personality or charisma. But he's a lot better than not having a coach at all.
So yes, recruits are more than likely going to be a little concerned about whom, exactly, they'll be coached by. Which leads into...
What to do with Ralph Friedgen? Lame duck coaches equate to bad things, especially in recruiting. Friedgen says he's earned an extension. I'm not particularly sure he has, and keeping him on board instead of hiring a Brian Billick (longshot) or Next Al Golden isn't helping matters. Were he to win eight games again next year, he'd return and I'd be fine with it. Until then, why force it? After all, you have Franklin waiting in the wings ready to take over.
Oh, wait: Maryland's hand is now forced. Do they basically forfeit the 2012 recruiting class in order to retain greater control over their future? Or do they try to keep the recruiting train running smoothly by giving Friedgen an extension right now while potentially locking themselves into an uncertain future? Things could've been simpler had Friedgen not just turned in a pretty nice season; he now thinks he's proven his coaching chops again and will almost certainly fight for a very nice deal.
That, of course, is almost as bad as the Franklin situation. If nothing else, Frank was young and could recruit. Neither applies to Fridge. Is it worse to have Franklin at the helm than Friedgen with a four-year extension and another huge buyout? I have no problem extending Friedgen right this second, so long as it's a relatively short contract that's incentive-based and with a smaller buyout than the last monstrosity had. But can Maryland get that? Some say UMD has the leverage; others say Ralph does. To be honest, I don't really know which one does, but we'll find out soon.
I've been ambivalent toward Kevin Anderson since he was hired. But we'll figure out if he's cut out for the position very quickly. This will be a serious test of his decision-making and negotiating mettle. The next few days will be crucial in the short-term and long-term future of Maryland football. Welcome to College Park, Kev.
Again, potential replacements rundown coming soon. First five names that came to mind: Whipple, Cignetti, Taaffe, Reich, Locksley.