Homecoming no party for Terps coach

Friedgen seeks focus on Tech, not his return

College Football

October 10, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - There's so much else to consider in tomorrow night's game between No. 22 Maryland and No. 15 Georgia Tech that it can seem silly to fixate on the history between Terps coach Ralph Friedgen and the Atlanta school that employed him for nine years.

The players are trying to stay on top of the Atlantic Coast Conference. They're trying to break a losing streak of 33 straight games against ranked teams. They're trying to prove themselves in front of a national television audience.

So cornerback Tony Okanlawon said teammates have mentioned the Friedgen-Georgia Tech connection "quietly, but we're not making it a Ralph vs. Georgia Tech thing."

That's a difficult task, other players acknowledged, despite there being plenty else at stake, and the effort to stay focused on the goal at hand.

The matter of gratitude comes into play, as the team often credits Friedgen with changing the attitude around this program since he came to Maryland last winter. The players would like to repay him.

"We know," tailback Bruce Perry said. "We realize what it means to him, so we want to go out and win this game for him."

With interest in a game between two ranked teams, and the homecoming story angle, media interest rose a bit, and Friedgen had to delegate the job of handling ticket requests to his wife, Gloria.

After Maryland rose to 5-0 with a 41-21 win over Virginia, the coach said that this would be an emotional game, and has related tales of his days in the 1980s as a Maryland assistant on the recruiting trail with Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary, then a Syracuse assistant. But both Friedgen and O'Leary say this game will be all about business.

O'Leary, who was Friedgen's boss for the previous four years and has a summer home in the same cove in Georgia, said "we'll have a lot of laughs in the off-season," but "I doubt we'll be calling each other the next day."

Friedgen, whose daughter Kelley still helps out Georgia Tech in academic support, said he's tried to keep the personal angle as low-key as possible in his appeals to his players.

"I want to take me out of this," Friedgen said. "I just want to play this game. Right now."

The only practical application of the connection is that Friedgen is often credited with building the offense that his defensive coaches now have the job of stopping.

One possible advantage is that much of the offense that has Georgia Tech (4-1) scoring 40 points per game is similar to what offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe now runs at Maryland. Just as easily, the intertwining could also be a disadvantage for Maryland's offense.

For Friedgen, it's all the same.

"The system has some safeguards," he said. "We played [at Georgia Tech] teams that had our playbooks or our coaches and we were able to be successful against them."

NOTES: Fullback Chad Killian (stinger) will probably not play. Guard Todd Wike (ankle) is doubtful. Wide receiver Daryl Whitmer (knee) may return. The status of cornerback Curome Cox (hamstring) is unclear. ... Yesterday, the Terps had crowd noise pumped into their practice via stereo, simulating conditions at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium. ... A Maryland win tomorrow would be its second against a ranked team in 54 tries.

Next for Maryland

Opponent: No. 15 Georgia Tech

Site: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta

When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Georgia Tech by 9 1/2

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