Maryland's football miracle

Terrapins: Athletic director didn't fumble opportunity when making Ralph Friedgen head coach.

November 20, 2001

THEY'RE GIVING thanks for more than turkey and trimmings at College Park this week.

University of Maryland students, boosters and fans are grateful that athletic director Debbie Yow hired Ralph Friedgen as the Terrapins' head football coach around last Thanksgiving.

Mr. Friedgen had been passed over for head coaching jobs several times. Now, many athletic directors must be shaking their heads.

He has worked wonders in his first year, raising expectations along with his team's status. The Terps have earned a major bowl bid for the first time in 25 years, an appearance that will bring the campus national attention and dollars. The team ranks No. 8 in the current Associated Press poll.

Before the season began, almost nobody dreamed that this year's team would be vying for games like the Orange, Sugar or Fiesta bowls, which are reserved for football powerhouses.

The Fridge, as Maryland's coach is affectionately known, may have been the only person to believe that the Terps would finish among college football's top dogs.

Mr. Friedgen inherited a team that returned 17 of its 22 starters from a lackluster 5-6 season. The program had been mired in mediocrity since Bobby Ross left in the mid-1980s for Georgia Tech and later the NFL.

But Mr. Friedgen is a nontraditional coach in the sense that he's not partial to cliches such as "It will take three years to build a winning program." He expected to win immediately. His players responded. Just savor the memory of Saturday's last-minute comeback win over North Carolina State.

The team's feat complements the success of the Maryland men's basketball team's Final Four appearance in March.

Mr. Friedgen should be a runaway choice for national coach of the year honors. And College Park should be thankful Ms. Yow picked a highly qualified leader who dared to expect beyond reason.

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