Morning, noon and night, Friedgen is answer man

Commentary

September 17, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

NOTHING LIKE waking up with Ralph Friedgen.

Or going to bed with him.

Even in rerun format, the smart aleck in Friedgen, his intelligence and decency are refreshing.

Thanks, Cold Pizza.

It must be a big game coming up when one of those newfangled cable sports shows features the University of Maryland football coach.

"I have my publicity agent in [assistant athletic director] Greg Creese. I think he gets a cut of it," Friedgen said yesterday about his 7:15 a.m. cameo appearance on Cold Pizza - and the nighttime rerun.

"He says it's good for our exposure. I just do what he tells me. I'm his slave."

Hardly.

Friedgen isn't a slave to anyone, including the TV people who called him and asked to switch Maryland's first two games to pick up a national time slot.

Friedgen declined to move the opener against Northern Illinois to a Sunday game. Nor did he want to move the Temple game to Thursday night, worried how it would affect his quarterback.

You know you're the king when you can turn down national-TV-game kind of money.

You know what kind of man Friedgen is when he puts a higher premium on the health of his players.

"I love the exposure. They wanted to move this game [against West Virginia] to Thursday, but they didn't want to give me a week off," Friedgen said.

So, instead, off the Terps go, crossing Maryland, over the West Virginia panhandle and into Morgantown, where noon tomorrow becomes another excuse for Mountaineers fans to go bananas.

"I'm playing `Almost Heaven' every day at practice," Friedgen said earlier this week - with a well-concealed chuckle.

"And I've played a lot of crowd noise to simulate how tough it is to play there. There are a lot of young guys who have not seen this type of environment. It's hard to know what it's like; a lot of people who are not rooting for you. I know. I've been there before, and I'm a good target. I'll take a few hits," Friedgen said.

In the case of the Terps' game at West Virginia, the intrigue is whether the No. 7-ranked Mountaineers will have an advantage over the No. 21-ranked Terps, even though since Friedgen came to College Park, the Terps have owned their cross-border rival.

If Cold Pizza thinks it's big, we ought to, too.

But how big?

The good and the bad of Friedgen's success at Maryland is that the big showdown in Morgantown isn't the be all and end all it once might have been.

Darn.

Remember when things were so easy?

In the dark days of Terrapins football, the rivalry match could have prompted hand-wringing about the raucous atmosphere at Mountaineer Field and how the young Terps will handle the "conditions."

Now, though, everything the Terps do is only part of a bigger picture. The program has ascended to the ranks just a notch below elite, with the landscape growing more complicated and compelling - especially for a superior strategist who likes a challenge.

Under Friedgen, Maryland is already a major player in the Atlantic Coast Conference - and looking to solidify and exceed its current standing.

That's saying a lot, considering the expanded conference now includes Virginia Tech and Miami, with Boston College to come in 2005.

Soon enough, the intra-conference rivalries will intensify. The stakes will loom even larger starting next season, when the ACC offers a conference championship game and more teams will likely funnel into lucrative BCS bowl games.

Friedgen has the passion to run with the big dogs. He now has the clout and the commitment - thanks to the raise he and Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow finalized last month.

It was a raise that will keep Friedgen in College Park for the next eight years - unless an NFL team comes calling. It was a salary raise Friedgen and Yow shook hands on in January, hours after the Terps destroyed West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.

In other words, beating West Virginia in a bowl game was more essential to the long-term health and well-being of the Maryland football program - with Friedgen as its guiding force.

Beating them now would be good for the Terps' goals of big bowl hunting, but there's more.

In the continued ascension of Maryland under Friedgen, a victory Oct. 30 over Florida State would be a major milestone for a program looking to assume its position in the ACC pecking order.

How nice to begin finding a way of intruding on the lofty place long held by the Seminoles and Hurricanes, especially with the Hokies and the Boston College Eagles in the formidable mix.

In the meantime, there's this noisy bit of business called West Virginia, whose coach we did not wake up with, or fall to sleep with.

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