Friedgen, Billick: 2 ways to reach heart, light a fire

Football

November 25, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

AS THE UNIVERSITY of Maryland and the Ravens staged miraculous fourth-quarter comebacks over the weekend, it wasn't just the explosive offenses that won games, but also the strong personalities of the coaches that played key roles.

If Terps coach Ralph Friedgen and Ravens boss Brian Billick have one thing in common, it's that they get their teams to play with passion. The Terps haven't quit on Friedgen in a game in three years. Except for the last game of his first season against New England in 1999, the Ravens have played equally as hard for Billick.

The Terps erased a 14-point deficit against North Carolina State on Saturday night to win, 26-24, and the Ravens overcame a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 44-41 overtime victory over Seattle on Sunday.

Whew. What gives?

It's charisma and motivation; the ability to reach a team's soul. Some coaches have it; a lot of them don't. Evidently, Friedgen and Billick have it. Just look at the game film.

The Ravens were extremely lucky Sunday and got some breaks from the officiating crew. But they also got plays from the usual playmakers, such as safety Ed Reed and inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

Quarterback Anthony Wright and receiver Marcus Robinson, two players who had contributed very little, came through in the second half.

Seattle should have won the game, and the Ravens could have easily folded before the fourth quarter, but that's not their style. Billick's forte is holding a team together and keeping the players focused.

Down at Maryland, the Terps should be thankful Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato blows a fuse with his play-calling in tight games. But just as importantly, the Terps also showed great resolve. They got a big hit from linebacker Leroy Ambush and several key plays from quarterback Scott McBrien.

Kicker Nick Novak, who missed an extra point that could have tied the game, redeemed himself by converting the game-winning, 43-yard field goal with 23 seconds left.

Again, the Terps didn't quit. It has to be something special about the coaches.

"The biggest challenge as a coach, in the pros or college, is dealing with the collective personnel of your team," said Billick.

The message from Billick and Friedgen is the same, one of setting goals and being accountable. Both believe in fast-paced practices, but on scaling them down late in the season.

Maryland is 10-2 from November on under Friedgen, and Billick is 24-12 in November and December since 1999. Both are regarded as players' coaches, but they have different styles.

Billick is more of a salesman and psychologist with the $50 words and the blustery, confrontational style. Arrogant? Yes. Friedgen is more quiet, direct and uses more one-syllable words. Cocky? Without question.

Fridge is Bubba. Billick is Freud.

Anybody or anything can become Public Enemy No. 1 of the week with Billick. He is liberal on bed checks on the road and curfew during training camp. The team offers a number of programs to the players dealing with investments and finances and seminars on drugs and alcohol abuse.

A lot of NFL coaches don't bother with such things.

"I grew up in white, middle-class, suburban L.A.," said Billick. "For me to lay some of that morality on them about what they should and shouldn't be doing off the field isn't going to work.

"We try to mentor them with different programs, even though the agents and financial advisers may want to distance us. We try to take it easy on them in practice, keep their legs fresh in November and December, when it means something.

"I think they appreciate some of the things we do," said Billick. "So when I do push the pedal to metal, they respond."

Billick defuses problems in advance. He has already spoken with running back Jamal Lewis about his goals of breaking the single-season rushing mark, but has told him he won't risk injuring him in the last game if the Ravens already are playoff-bound, record or no record.

"There is a natural self-interest of, `How do I get mine?' " said Billick. "It's fine to acknowledge that it exists and to give them the latitude to enhance that, but as long as it doesn't affect the team. You can't wait until the problem happens. Players appreciate the communication and working it out like men."

Friedgen is dealing with younger men. His approach is a little different. He puts a lot of pressure on seniors to lead and is more rah-rah. He has been known to toss a few chairs and tables at halftime. He head-butted and chest-bumped players before the North Carolina game. He stands up and sings the school fight song after games.

The players love this kind of stuff.

Like Billick, Friedgen is going to fight for his players. He got a new dining room facility for his players on campus. He was instrumental in getting additions to the football field house.

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