Friedgen gets ACC's top honor

He's Coach of Year

Terps awards likely

College Football

November 29, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Another honor has gone to Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen, who, as expected, was unanimously named the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coach of the Year yesterday.

More awards are expected to come to the Terrapins today as the league announces its offensive, defensive and overall players of the year.

The university's athletics department has tentatively scheduled a reception this afternoon for honored players, likely including league rushing leader Bruce Perry for offense and tackling leader E.J. Henderson for defense and the overall award.

Honors for Perry, who rushed for 1,242 yards, and Henderson, who had 147 tackles, would give Maryland the closest thing to a sweep of the ACC's individual honors since Florida State's 1997 team took all of them, including Rookie of the Year.

"I look at it as a program," said Friedgen, who lauded his coaching staff, as well as strength conditioners and trainers, at a news conference yesterday. "It's a great tribute to what we have as an organization. It takes all of that to be successful. I'm just the focal point."

Each of the 69 votes cast by members of the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters Association went to Friedgen, 54, who led his team to a 10-1 record, a No. 7 ranking and a league title to become the first Maryland coach to win the award since his former boss, Bobby Ross, won it in 1982.

The Terps are expected to receive a berth to the Orange or Sugar Bowl.

In any other year, special consideration would have gone to Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, who took a 1-10 team and turned it into a bowl-bound squad, or to Jim Bunting, who pulled North Carolina out of an 0-3 funk at the beginning of the season.

Friedgen's distinction this season, however, was in transforming a program that had been defined by malaise since Ross left College Park after the 1986 season. The 1990 team had been the program's only bowl team since then, and the 1995 team had the only winning record in the last decade.

The coach, a former offensive coordinator for the NFL's San Diego Chargers and with Georgia Tech, came to Maryland last November to replace Ron Vanderlinden as head coach after 32 years as an assistant.

Friedgen described winning the award at his alma mater as "extra special. That's all I can tell you. I wanted to be a head coach for a long time."

Maryland's players returned to football-related activity on Monday for the first time since their regular season ended on Nov. 17. In their time off, they had an opportunity to watch some of the other top college teams play.

The upsets of Nebraska and Oklahoma reminded the Terps of how difficult it is to play well enough to win each week.

"Coach Friedgen always talked about that," tight end Jeff Dugan said. "He always warned us and never let us forget it. On any given weekend, anyone can lose. Rankings don't mean a thing."

The winning - which brought the Terrapins their first ACC title since 1985 - no doubt helped the team when it came to postseason recognition, with seven first-team All-ACC selections.

After last season, the only Terps (defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and tailback LaMont Jordan) to go relatively high (second round) in the NFL draft didn't even make the All-ACC first team. Maryland went 5-6 in 2000.

"It's a great program accomplishment," said Henderson, a linebacker who was named an All-American by the Football Writers Association of America yesterday. "You usually see all Florida State guys. Now, it's all Terps. ... We've been producing those same types of players."

Henderson, who had the distraction of a DWI charge earlier in the season, had that charge dropped last week. Now, as he looks toward his team's bowl game, he must also deal with the question of whether he'll end his Maryland career after the season and place himself in the NFL draft.

The junior linebacker said he's begun discussing the issue with his parents and with Friedgen, since people have started asking him about his plans beyond this season.

"Hopefully, by the time I start to play [in the bowl game], I'll have a good mind-set on what to do," said Henderson, who intends to graduate next May. He said he's looking forward to Saturday and the beginning of practice. "At least in practice," he said, "I'll be gone from it for three hours."

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