This isn't the first time I used the phrase "Friedgen's Last Stand." It happened to be wrong last time. For the sake of Maryland and Ralph Friedgen himself, I hope I'm wrong again. Somehow, I doubt it.
We all know the narrative. Alumnus returns to his alma mater, leads them to national prominence out of nowhere and wins 31 games in his first three seasons, including an ACC championship. That was followed by a much less consistent six years, which included three bowl games, two winning seasons, and two 5-6 seasons. Last year was, well, you know: 2-10.
Obviously, Friedgen's job security was a big storyline at the end of last season, partially because it was the only storyline to be had at all. He ended up saving his job for one more year, though the decision was likely influenced heavily by economics (Maryland didn't quite have the money to pay for a buyout, let alone a coach to replace him).
The low water mark put into place by former AD Debbie Yow was seven games, which she called "reasonable". That in and of itself would've been difficult to achieve, but it gets even tougher now that Yow is gone, and her replacement will have no connection to Friedgen or his contract.
That a change would need to be made if Maryland had another bad year is pretty obvious. The apathy surrounding the team is palpable, and apathetic fans equates to less revenue in the largest revenue-producing sport in college athletics. Except for Duke, football is the cash cow at every school in the country, and, with basketball, tends to pay for the rest of the sports. Keeping an inadequate coach in power can't be afforded.
With the buyout lessened by $2mil thanks to one more year of the contract being eaten up, there's a lot more flexibility for Maryland to cut Friedgen loose and still be able to attract a quality coach, and maybe even not have to deal with James Franklin (more on that tomorrow).
With a new AD, regardless of whether its Jeff Hathaway, Joe Castiglione, Randy Eaton, or anyone else, it's likely that Friedgen will be looking for a job unless he can get the fanbase excited again. That will probably take not only a bowl game, but probably seven wins; anything else is doubtful to actually alter the attitude of the fanbase or the program.
That's partially because of the reasons I already mentioned. It's also because the new AD will be able to cut any ties easily; he didn't hire Friedgen, after all. In fact, it's likely that he wants his own guy in the position, considering its the second-most (or first, depending on your view) important coaching spot in the department.
The only way Friedgen can save his job at this point will be results on the field. There's no other factor that matters at this point, including recruiting; any recruiting successes will likely be chalked up to James Franklin, his #2. And at this point the only way to revive the program is to do it on the field.
We've already gone through the potential replacements. At this point, Maryland can likely afford the $2mil buyout, and it's time to put up or shut up. The ACC is pulling away; fans are getting restless and apathetic. Maryland can afford another bad year.
As far as storylines go, this one's probably the most dominant. Lord knows we'll be following it closely this year.