COLLEGE PARK, Md. — After the Maryland Terrapins had just polished off a 51-20 drubbing of East Carolina in the Military Bowl Wednesday, I found myself sitting in the bowels of RFK Stadium waiting for the final press conference of Head Coach Ralph Friedgen’s tenure at his alma mater.
Having been formally dismissed only nine days earlier by Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, we all expected a certain level of emotion from the man affectionately known as “The Fridge.” In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all had Friedgen broken down during his post-game chat.
As a Maryland alum (much like Friedgen), I have found myself surprisingly non-moved by the news that Friedgen was let go (or had the final year of his contract “bought out” if you will) following an impressive 8-4 campaign. I found myself expressing feelings like “It’s really a shame” but following them up with expressions like “but I understand the University’s need to sell tickets at Byrd Stadium and make money.”
As I was waiting for Friedgen’s post-game press conference to begin, I was handed a sheet of paper that lead me to the first real emotion I had felt since the news broke.
“I have three daughters and 120 sons” Friedgen had told bowl officials immediately after the win over the Pirates. “I am going to miss these kids.”
Yep. That did it.
In that moment, I was reminded of exactly what Ralph Friedgen meant to the University of Maryland and Terps fans worldwide over the last ten seasons.
I couldn’t quite put it into words until I arrived for the Maryland-North Florida basketball game at Comcast Center that night, but there was no doubting the impact that statement had on me.
There’s no questioning Ralph Friedgen’s success on the field as the football coach in College Park. Friedgen won 60% of the games he coached, posting a 75-50 overall record. The Terps reached bowl games in seven of Friedgen’s ten seasons, winning five of those games. His accolades include the 2001 ACC Championship (and a berth in the Orange Bowl), being named ACC Coach of the Year in ’01 and 2010 and being a nearly unanimous National Coach of the Year selection in ’01 as well.
Friedgen collected victories in the Peach Bowl, Gator Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl and Humanitarian Bowl before finishing his tenure with Wednesday’s Military Bowl title. 24 players coached by Friedgen at Maryland were selected in the NFL Draft; with WR Torrey Smith and LB Alex Wujciak expected to be amongst those that join them this year.
With all of that being said, the reality is that Maryland MIGHT be able to improve on-field under a new head coach. Maybe a Randy Edsall, Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, KC Keeler or Gus Malzahn could have the Terrapins competing for BCS berths more than once every ten years.
But it won’t take away from Friedgen did on the field (especially considering the program hadn’t reached postseason play since 1990 before Friedgen took over-and hadn’t won an ACC title since 1985) and it certainly won’t take away from what Friedgen represented as head coach in College Park.
The statement Friedgen made after his final game as head coach was “I have three daughters and 120 sons.”
The reality is that Friedgen has had nearly 1,000 sons over his tenure and he has been a remarkable example to each and every one of what type of person they should try to be.
Friedgen’s teams were never under NCAA investigation due to scandal. There was the 2003 incident when assistant coach Rod Sharpless gave prospect Victor Abiamiri an XBox, and there was the high profile Halloween 2005 fight at the Cornerstone Bar & Grill involving members of the team.
Other than those isolated incidents, it was a drama free decade.
More than that, Friedgen was particularly honest as a head coach, almost to a fault. Honesty is rare in football coaching circles these days, as coaches tend to view honesty as an opportunity for opponents to gain an advantage.
That wasn’t the case for Friedgen.
He always represented the University well, even if he wasn’t a particularly good-looking man. He never hid from his love for the school. He always spoke highly of the student athletes he coached. The kids he played for clearly cared a great deal about him.
The number of other schools in the ACC that can say they had a similar run with one coach over the last ten seasons can be counted on…one finger (Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer).
Ralph Friedgen made Maryland fans proud for ten season.
Ralph Friedgen left Maryland football much better than he found it ten seasons after returning to his alma mater.
When youngsters attend football games at Byrd Stadium and ask their parents about the name “Friedgen” that is displayed along the upper deck; they will hear the response “he was a hell of a coach here.”
The University of Maryland better get this search right.
The man they had was not only a great coach, but a great father for ten seasons.
That won’t be easy to duplicate.