As time goes on I gain more respect for Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen as a coach and as a person. I especially respect him for staying at his alma mater. It would have been to easy for Friedgen to leave during his first three years in College Park, when he went 31-8, won an ACC Championship and two bowl games in three attempts.
Compare this to rats like Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban and now the mess that is the Rich Rodriguez buyout at West Virginia. Coaches especially at the college level are cashing in and cashing out, leaving behind recruits to whom they have promised allegiance to or pro organizations hoping for revitalized programs. Commitment in college football coaching seems to mean very little, as do written contracts.
Friedgen was a hot commodity at that time, prime to leave after that great run. Because it took so long for athletic directors, including Debbie Yow, to see through his big body and hire him, I don’t think we could have found fault. Would you have blamed him? The cash was there and all he had to do was grab it.
Friedgen was 53 when he took the Maryland job, having been passed over numerous times by stupid athletic directors and university presidents who were looking for movie star good looks rather than head football coaches. Big, bald, overweight guys just didn’t seem to cut in the 90s. Instead these dopes choose one shot wonders like Ron Vanderlinden, smooth talking political types that they thought could charm boosters and recruits. Shocking news flash, discrimination does exist in college sports today.
Friedgen had waited so long. How tempted he must have been to take a big payday when Malcolm Glazer’s money (reported at $5 million a year) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came calling in 2002. How about if he had left and taken a job at Georgia Tech before they hired Chan Gailey when that school was looking for a new coach? After all he was Tech’s offensive coordinator twice and has a summer home in Georgia.
Friedgen could have named his job either in the NFL or college. He was successful, had turned around a lemon of a program, and was, and still is, an innovative offense mind with a proven track record in both college and the NFL. Remember he was the offensive coordinator of a Super Bowl team with Stan Humphries at quarterback. At his age, cashing in big, much more than he currently makes at Maryland, was probably the right thing to do. He might have been able to go to a school where football was the only thing and he would have been a king. That could have set him up royally for retirement.
But he stayed thankfully! When he was flirting with the Tampa Bay job, his players, who were about to have a 5:30 a.m. conditioning work out, saw Friedgen and confronted him about the rumors. They said very simply "Are you in or are you out?” Friedgen was in and a marketing slogan was born. The Glazer’s went back to Tampa without their man.
The only reason I can think of is old fashioned loyalty to a place he loved. See Friedgen wasn’t just mad when he got passed over for Vanderlinden, he was crushed because as bad as he wanted to be a head coach, he wanted to be the head coach at Maryland worse.
I always wonder why the athletic department at Maryland has not promoted Friedgen or why he himself hasn’t taken more of an opportunity to promote himself in Baltimore. Friedgen and this town would go over well. He has characteristics that people here respect: honesty, blue collar roots, strong family values, an unending work ethic, and especially loyalty.
One of the rubs against Friedgen was that he couldn’t raise money or that people wouldn’t warm up to him. He has answered this by raising more money than Vanderlinden, Mark Duffner and Bobby Ross combined. He might go down as the most popular Terp coach in history. The Fridge has became an icon.
He has never been a slick talking phony like some of the new coaches are. He’s a straight shooter, plain and simple. Friedgen doesn’t blow smoke to recruits; he basically tells them do you want to play here or not? Yes, he gives players second chance when they screw up. He believes in that, but you won’t see Ralph Friedgen’s kids skipping class or study hall and not paying a price with him. Maryland football has had graduation rates as high as 79%.
See more than just coaching them, he cares for them as well. He hired former Terp great Kevin Glover as Director of Character Education to mentor and educate players on things outside football.
This kind of commitment is why we should be glad that Friedgen chose to stay. It’s now five bowl games in seven years, including three straight bowl victories heading into the Emerald Bowl. Terps fans ask yourself this question, would you have taken that the day he was hired? I think the answer is yes.
True, his last four years haven’t been as good as the first three, but those first three years probably weren’t a true measuring stick. Remember too the ACC has gotten much tougher since Boston College and Virginia Tech entered. Wake Forest is suddenly a threat, and Butch Davis and Paul Johnson are going to have impacts at North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
Brutally honest, Friedgen has always called the program’s depth into question. The last few years (just like the Ravens) he hasn’t been able to find that right signal caller to run his high powered offense.
That most certainly looks like it might be changing. Josh Portis is eligible next fall, and some reports claim he is the best quarterback talent to step onto campus since Boomer Esiason. He is the kind of elite talent that single handily can lead a program into the top 10. Chris Turner has more than peaked curiosity at his ability. The current recruiting class is rated in the top 25. Friedgen was able to redshirt most of the young lineman on both sides of the ball he recruited last year adding depth.
Improvements in stadium facilities are on the way. The return of assistant coach James Franklin as offensive coordinator should allow Friedgen to lessen his load and concentrate more on the overall program. Franklin is a great recruiter as well, and when these young people sign with Maryland, they should have the knowledge that their commitment will be matched by their head coach. Ralph Friedgen is the head football coach at Maryland and he plans on staying there.
Providing his health is good, I think he could be on the verge of another good run at Maryland. He deserves to have one more good run; his loyalty and perseverance should be rewarded. He has brought the program back from a decade of despair. We certainly have been rewarded by Friedgen being the head coach at Maryland.
In an area where pro football rules, today Maryland football matters, run by a man that wants to be there and is not looking for a quick payday in another place.