Maryland fired Ralph Friedgen Monday, who led the Terps to the greatest one-season turnaround in ACC history in 2010.

The Maryland Terrapins sent coach Ralph Friedgen out as a winner in his final game, defeating East Carolina, 51-20 in the Military Bowl in front of  38,062 fans at RFK Stadium Wednesday.  Friedgen, the 2010 ACC Coach of the Year, was fired by Maryland Monday, but the Fridge deserved to stay.

Senior running back Da’Rel Scott rushed for 201 yards including touchdown runs of 61 and 91 yards.  Redshirt freshman D.J. Adams added four more touchdowns on the ground, and Maryland’s defense held the Pirates to 38 yards rushing as the Terps (9-4) sent Friedgen off with a 5-2 mark in bowl games at Maryland. Friedgen got a Gatorade shower from his players on the sideline in the game’s closing minutes.

“It’s like everything else I did this week.  It’s the last time,” said Friedgen after the game.  “Maybe it’ll happen somewhere else but it’s the last time at my alma mater, so it’s meaningful there.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fans coming out and supporting me, and the letters and emails and the texts I’ve gotten have been incredible.

“I didn’t know I was that important,” an emotional Friedgen said.  “It was pretty nice and pretty special today.”

That Maryland would fire its longtime coach after a seven-game improvement over last season is not only disloyal, but also highly questionable.  It’s uncertain whether a new coach will have significantly better results than Friedgen, who led the Terrapins to bowl games in seven of his 10 seasons.  In fact, a new coaching staff could result in fewer Terps playing in the NFL, which could ultimately hurt recruiting.

Friedgen, the 2001 National Coach of the Year, was fired despite improving Maryland’s record from 2-10 in 2009 to 9-4 this season, the biggest turnaround in the history of the ACC. Maryland had only played in one bowl in the previous 14 years before Friedgen’s arrival.

Maryland is expected to hire former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, whose Red Raiders played in bowls for 10 consecutive seasons but was fired a year ago for allegedly mistreating a player.

Friedgen, a 1970 Maryland graduate and former guard for the Terps, was an offensive coordinator at Maryland under Bobby Ross from 1982-1986, the last time Maryland achieved sustained success before Friedgen arrived as head coach.  As an offensive coordinator, Friedgen also helped Georgia Tech win a share of the national championship in 1990 and helped the San Diego Chargers get to the Super Bowl in 1995.

So why did new Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson fire Friedgen?  Despite Maryland’s turnaround in 2010, attendance at Byrd Stadium fell to its lowest level since 2002.  James Franklin, Maryland’s “coach in waiting” and top recruiter, took the head job at Vanderbilt earlier this month, leaving the status of Maryland’s assistant coaches uncertain.  Friedgen is 63, and the colorful 49-year old Leach was available.

Leach was fired by Texas Tech last December after allegations that he ordered wide receiver Adam James, who had a concussion, to stand in a darkened storage area and media room during two Red Raider practices.  Leach said that he wanted James in a dark area because of James’ sensitivity to light, and that he separated James from the team because he was a distraction.

Adam James is the son of ESPN announcer and former SMU and New England Patriots running back Craig James.  Leach said Craig James complained about playing time for his son, who had poor practice habits, according to Leach.

Leach later filed a lawsuit against Texas Tech, seeking more than $12 million for breach of contract.  Leach claims the university fired him in part to avoid paying him an $800,000 bonus.

Texas Tech said in a statement that Leach’s treatment of James was ‘‘meant to demean, humiliate and punish the player rather than to serve the team’s best interest.’’

In a deposition March 10, Leach testified that he told the team’s trainer to tell James to stand during the practices, which lasted between one and two hours each. “I said put him in a dark place and have him stand,” Leach said he told the trainer. When asked whether that was an appropriate way to treat a student with a brain concussion, Leach responded, “Yes.”

Whether or not Leach’s treatment of a player with a concussion was inappropriate, Maryland’s firing of Friedgen and expected hiring of Leach and his spread offense is a gamble.  Friedgen’s record of 75–50 is not much different than Leach’s mark of 84-43. Texas Tech’s best season-ending ranking was 12th in 2008.  Friedgen’s Terps had their best finish in 2001 when they finished ranked 10th in the country.

Maryland also has more than twice as many players in the NFL as Texas Tech, 29 to 14, so bringing Leach in would not seem to be an upgrade for recruiting players who hope to play in the pros, except possibly for wide receivers.

Leach, who is obsessed with pirates – the real kind – spent much of his year off from football lounging around in Key West, Florida, soaking up the good life, waiting for a return to college football.  But the D.C. area already has seen a coach in Steve Spurrier who liked to enjoy the good life, and that didn’t work out so well.  Perhaps Maryland fans deserve a coach whose pastime is studying film?

Leach was a successful coach at Texas Tech, and chances are he’ll do well at Maryland, inheriting a 9-win team with most of its starters returning.  But what does it say about a program’s loyalty when it fires a coach after he wins the ACC Coach of the Year, including the greatest one-season turnaround in conference history?

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