November 6, 2007
COLLEGE PARK Maryland has a football program in complete disarray, and it will be interesting to see how Coach Ralph Friedgen addresses the situation.
The reeling Terrapins have suffered three straight losses for only the second time in Friedgen's seven-year tenure and have looked increasingly worse with each passing game.
With a home game against eighth-ranked Boston College and road games at Florida State and N.C. State remaining, it's not inconceivable that Maryland could finish 4-8 easily the worst record on Friedgen's watch. That would be fitting because right now this looks like the poorest team the Fridge has put together since arriving in College Park.
Who would have imagined that Maryland football would be in this sorry state after Friedgen produced 30 victories in his initial three seasons? That remarkable early success raised fan expectations to the point most were talking about the Terps contending for a national championship come 2007.
Instead, the program has regressed, and the blame for that rests squarely on the shoulders of Friedgen. It appears Maryland will post a losing record for the third time in the last four seasons, and there is little to make one hope that things will get better in 2008.
How did this happen? That's a good question and there are no easy answers. However, in the world of college football it usually comes down to two key factors talent and coaching, both of which seem to be in short supply in College Park at the moment.
Friedgen can blame the team's current woes on injuries, but reality is that Maryland simply does not have a lot of great players. Ask yourself this question: How many current Terps figure to play in the NFL?
Among the juniors and seniors, who are easier to evaluate at this stage, linebacker Erin Henderson looks like the only sure bet to get drafted. Injured offensive guard Andrew Crummey, running back Keon Lattimore and defensive tackle Dre Moore all figure to get a shot as free agents. As far as the freshmen and sophomores, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is the only player who has the look of a sure-fire pro.
Those three successful seasons at the start of Friedgen's tenure were fashioned using a roster stocked with players recruited by predecessor Ron Vanderlinden. To date, Friedgen has not proven he can consistently win with the players his staff recruited.
During the early years of Friedgen's tenure, there is no denying that Maryland was well-coached. Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe and defensive coordinator Gary Blackney were among the best in the business. With Friedgen overseeing the show, the Terps had three extremely experienced coaches who devised sound strategy and made very few mistakes.
In retrospect, it seems obvious the caliber of coaching at Maryland declined dramatically in one fell swoop. At the end of the 2005 season, the Terps' second straight with a 5-6 record, Blackney retired and Taaffe resigned. Chris Cosh was hired as defensive coordinator, and Friedgen installed himself as offensive coordinator. Two seasons into the new regime, there is no question the Terps have suffered a major downgrade in the caliber of their coordinators.
Cosh, who was fired as defensive coordinator at South Carolina and turned in a suspect performance in the same role at Illinois and Michigan State, is not nearly as sound or innovative as Blackney. Friedgen, frankly, has been a disaster as a play caller and his reputation as an "offensive genius" has taken a major hit.
During the week prior to the North Carolina game, there were rumors around the Gossett Team House that athletic director Debbie Yow would force Friedgen to get rid of Cosh and bring in a new defensive coordinator. Yow has played this game before as numerous sources have stated that she was responsible for orchestrating Taaffe's ouster.
In the wake of Maryland's woeful offensive showing in Chapel Hill, it seems more plausible that Yow will put pressure on Friedgen to go out and hire a proven offensive coordinator. The Terps were an absolute mess on offense against the Tar Heels because of miscommunication, missed assignments, stupid penalties and generally lousy execution.
Maryland literally looked like a Mickey Mouse operation on offense against Carolina, with coaches sending in the wrong signals, players going the wrong way and multiple illegal formation, delay of game and offsides calls. Insiders say Friedgen fully realizes the offensive organization is poor and has already decided to hire a veteran coordinator.
"We made a lot of mistakes that killed drives. I got to look at myself because that's happening too much, we're not prepared like we need to be prepared," Friedgen said in the wake of the mass confusion during the North Carolina loss.
Speculation has already begun that Friedgen will make another run at Mike Locksley, a former Maryland assistant and current offensive coordinator at Illinois. Locksley did an outstanding job as recruiting coordinator under Vanderlinden and briefly under Friedgen, but he left when Bill O'Brien was hired as offensive coordinator in-waiting.
It seems silly to get rid of Cosh at this point, as he's only had two seasons to install his system and is probably working with sub-par personnel. Maryland's defensive struggles this season are partially due to Cosh's bend-but-don't-break philosophy, but they are equally the result of an inept offense that puts the defense back on the field with little rest.
A review of the statistics shows that opponents are piling up the bulk of points and yardage in the second half, and that's because the defense has been out there for too many plays and is worn down. Clearly, the defense would feel less pressure and likely would perform better if the offense could actually mount a sustained drive and score some points.
Part of the reason Cosh was hired as defensive coordinator is because he's a dynamic recruiter, and early indications are that he's living up to that reputation. He is a native of talent-rich Prince George's County and has strong ties in the Washington metro area.
Friedgen's leadership of the program will be severely tested over the final three games. If Maryland does not show some modicum of improvement and gets completely embarrassed by Boston College on national television, an already difficult situation could spiral completely out of control. Somehow, the Terrapins have to find a way to be competitive and at least try to win at least one of the final three games in order to build some sort of positive momentum going into the offseason.
HOOPS FANS GRATEFUL FOR GUS
Maryland basketball fans were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected commitment of blue-chip big man Augustus "Gus" Gilchrist. Actually, stunned and ecstatic might be a better description.
Fans that follow recruiting closely were aware that Gilchrist was available and that Maryland was involved, but it just seemed like such a longshot. After all, Gilchrist and expressed very little interest in the Terps coming out of high school and visa versa.
However, things changed, and obviously Maryland made the right moves after Gilchrist declined to enroll at Virginia Tech as a result of the tragic on-campus shootings.
So in the midst of a recruiting season that could best be described as chaotic, Coach Gary Williams got some good news a highly skilled, 6-10, 235-pound center-forward would be joining the program in January.
Gilchrist was still wide open and certainly not leaning toward Maryland when he made an official visit to College Park. However, following a lengthy meeting with Williams and a full description of how he would fit into the flex offense, the former Progressive Christian Academy star surprised even his closest supporters by declaring for the Terps.
"I always kind of played the flex offense growing up," Gilchrist said. "I remember I started learning it early in AAU, probably when I was 9.
"I'm a versatile, perimeter post player. I can handle the ball and score inside and out. This offense allows the big man the freedom to move all over the floor and will allow me to showcase my skills."
By all accounts, Gilchrist's skills are prodigious and were display when he was named Most Valuable Player at the Capital Classic all-star game. He averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds as a senior at Progressive Christian and clearly has the ability to help Maryland immediately.
Whether Gilchrist will make an immediate impact is up for debate, as Williams is leaning toward having the player redshirt this season. Gilchrist will not enroll at Maryland and be eligible to practice until January and thus would have limited understanding of the system and minimal chemistry with teammates. To thrust a player who has just joined the program into the heat of the ACC portion of the schedule might not be the best move.
However, there is the school of thought that Gilchrist is so talented he could contribute a much-needed inside presence despite not really knowing what he's doing. Those who think Gilchrist is the type of talent who will leave early for the NBA figure Williams should play him this season since he may not be around as a junior or senior.