Friedgen tells Bucs no thanks

Confronted by Terps, media, coach takes `name out of the hat'

He's surprised story broke

10-2 UM coach says `I wanted to see what the options were'

February 13, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Ralph Friedgen, who had emerged as a candidate to lead the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, announced his intention to remain Maryland's coach yesterday morning.

Friedgen, 54, had met with Buccaneers executive vice presidents Joel and Edward Glazer Monday night, but removed his name from consideration after ESPN.com published reports of the meeting later that evening.

"I don't know how this story broke," the coach said, "but that put me in a position where I need to pull my name out of the hat."

Indeed, Friedgen was confronted by his players before a pre-dawn workout where he was reportedly asked by sophomore defensive back Dennard Wilson, "Are you in or are you out?"

The Terps were concerned about losing a coach who had, in his first season as a head coach, just directed them to a 10-2 record, an Orange Bowl berth and the school's first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985.

"We heard about the Tampa Bay interview and wanted to talk to him," offensive lineman Reggie Kemp said in Gossett Team House yesterday. "We wanted to make sure he was still with us. He said he was in, and we went to work."

Friedgen said he wasn't eager to move, given that his wife and two of his daughters have been in Maryland for not quite six months. Also, he cited unfinished business - wanting the Terps to become a consistent presence in the Top 25.

Despite the team's success in 2001, the coaching staff was occasionally reminded by prospective recruits - through getting passed over - that Maryland was far from an established power after logging only its second winning season over the past decade. The Terrapins lose nine starters and four key reserves from last year's team, prompting Friedgen to suggest that 2002 could be a difficult season. "We've got to start over because most of our kids are young."

Another of Friedgen's goals is to upgrade facilities, though there has been frustration with the slow process of renovating Gossett Team House, with groundbreaking in the late spring.

"I'm not a patient guy," he said. "It's a fault, but sometimes it's an asset. I want to be great tomorrow. Not in 10 years."

The former San Diego Chargers assistant said he was intrigued on Sunday afternoon when he heard from the Glazers, who had called his agent, Jack Reale. The Buccaneers nearly hired former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis last weekend, but decided they needed a more offensive-minded coach.

After rebuffing Georgia Tech's exploratory calls to Reale about that school's head coaching position in December, Friedgen signed a new 10-year deal at Maryland, believed to be worth between $10 million and $12 million. Yet monetary considerations weighed in his decision to talk to the Buccaneers, which he did at his Olney home for several hours.

Friedgen's current salary would be in the bottom third among NFL head coaches in a climate where the last two college coaches to ascend - Cleveland's Butch Davis and Washington's Steve Spurrier - signed for $3 million and $5 million a year.

"This was an opportunity to talk to them. For a lot of reasons, I wanted to see what the options were," he said. "I felt I had an obligation to at least talk to these people."

Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said Friedgen told her of the meeting on Monday morning, saying, "We're always going to be straight with each other."

Friedgen described the meeting with the Glazers as an enjoyable exchange of ideas on offensive philosophies - "kind of like having company over; we just sat around and talked the bull" - that posed as a reversal of fortune when compared with his first 32 years in the coaching business.

"It was very flattering to be considered after so many years of not being considered," he said, confident that his style of offense would work at the NFL level. "I know it would work. No doubt at all. Here's an offense that's flexible enough to work with the existing personnel you have."

It is unknown whether Friedgen recognized that meeting at home with executives from an NFL team with a prominent head coaching vacancy constituted news. But when asked whether he'd choose to meet with the Glazers in person if he knew it was to become public, he said "I probably wouldn't have done it."

After the ESPN report came out, the Friedgens got several calls at 11:30 p.m. or later on Monday, according to Gloria Friedgen, Ralph's wife, who said, "Things got out of control."

Yow said she was happy to have kept Friedgen around, having signed him to a contract competitive with nearly all coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I was concerned that our best chances of developing a Top 25 football program rest in having Coach Friedgen here as our football coach," said Yow, who didn't like the idea of constantly competing for the services of a successful coach, but "it beats the alternative. I've lived the alternative."

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