As a senior, Friedgen was one of the few players on the team not to get caught up in the revolt that cost Ward his job after a 2-8 season. Friedgen's father had told him not to quit, the same advice Friedgen would give his eldest daughter, a volleyball player at Emory University in Atlanta, during a similar insurrection a few years ago.
"All those experiences, how frustrating they were, have been so beneficial in my coaching," said Friedgen, who as a senior was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Academic team. "Not only from the standpoint of knowledge, but of dealing with kids that go through apprehensions and fears. I kind of can relate to what they're going through."
A 1969 graduate, Friedgen realized during a stint as a student teacher that he would not follow his parents into the profession - "It was like going through two-a-days," he said. So he worked on his master's degree and became a volunteer assistant coach for the freshman team. During classes, he scribbled plays on notebooks and napkins, anything he could get his hands on.
"That's when I realized what I wanted to do," he said. "I fell in love with it."
He also fell in love with a girl from Long Island named Gloria Spina.
"He told me he was going to be a coach and that we would have to move around a lot," said Gloria Friedgen, who would become a science teacher and coach herself.
They typed letters to 100 major college coaches and 40 high school coaches. The letters started the same way - "Football is my life ..." and came back with the same disheartening response. "I kind of got used to rejection," he said.
The first reply came from another fellow called The Bear. As in Bryant, the legendary coach at the University of Alabama.
"He said, 'I've already got too many coaches,' " Friedgen said.
Friedgen worked three years as a volunteer graduate assistant under Roy Lester, who was fired and replaced by Jerry Claiborne. The former Virginia Tech coach brought along a relatively unknown assistant who would become Friedgen's mentor.
Working with Ross
Bobby Ross welcomed Friedgen's help in coaching a group of linebackers that included future All-American Randy White. At Ross' urging, Claiborne hired Friedgen as a graduate assistant for the 1972 season at a whopping $150 a month.
When Ross left the next year to become head coach at The Citadel, he offered two of Maryland's graduate assistants full-time jobs. One was Friedgen; the other was Frank Beamer, now the celebrated head coach at Virginia Tech.
"I knew right away that Ralph and Frank were going to be very fine coaches," said Ross, who recently ended his distinguished career by resigning in midseason as coach of the Detroit Lions. "He [Friedgen] was very smart, a very good disciplinarian."
Brought in to coach the defensive line, Friedgen was there two years when Ross made him offensive coordinator. Friedgen, who was 27, was promoted over two experienced coaches. He remained at The Citadel for seven years, the longest stay of his career.
"I remember asking him, `When are we going to move?' " recalled Gloria Friedgen.
Starting in 1980, the Friedgens made two moves in two years. He followed Citadel assistant Jimmye Laycock, 31, to William and Mary, then left to join the 35-year-old Beamer at Murray State in 1981 as assistant head coach.
"It was a little bit of culture shock for my wife," Friedgen said of his one season in Murray, Ky.
The next year, Ross returned to College Park. After a stint as an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, Ross was hired to succeed Claiborne at Maryland.
"The first person I called when I took the Maryland job was Ralph," said Ross, who in five years with the Terrapins won three ACC championships, went to four bowl games and compiled a 39-19-1 record. "And the first person I took with me to Georgia Tech was Ralph."
Friedgen helped Ross rebuild a struggling Georgia Tech program and, four seasons after they arrived, the Yellow Jackets won a share of the national championship. He went with Ross to the San Diego Chargers in 1992 and, in their third season there, took the team to the Super Bowl.
When Ross left for the Lions in 1997, Friedgen went back to Georgia Tech as offensive coordinator for George O'Leary because he wanted to become a college head coach.
During their first stint together at Georgia Tech, Friedgen and O'Leary, then the team's defensive coordinator, often substituted together for Ross at alumni functions. The Norm and Cliff of college football did their best to liven things up.
"They called it the `George and Ralph Show,' " recalled Ross.
The pair jokingly predicted a national championship at one alumni gathering in Savannah in the spring of 1990, even though the Yellow Jackets were coming off a 7-4 season. Behind quarterback Shawn Jones, 11-0-1 Georgia Tech fulfilled the promise.
"The next year we came back, they had a limousine and champagne waiting for us when we got off the plane," Friedgen said, roaring with laughter. "They said, 'You guys called it.' "