Changing signals

New approach will let Friedgen focus on main role

On Maryland's future

December 27, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

SAN FRANCISCO — SAN FRANCISCO-- --If you're a Maryland football follower, and you're anticipating tomorrow night's Emerald Bowl game against Oregon State, and your mind is still drifting toward next season, don't feel bad. Ralph Friedgen is doing the same thing. For pretty much the same reason you are.

Obviously, 6-6 (or 7-6, or 6-7) isn't good enough for either. Neither were the continued struggles of the offense, which only gets a slight pass from all the injuries. And the coach, as it turns out, was as uncomfortable and dissatisfied with his performance as offensive coordinator the past two seasons as the Terrapins faithful have been.

That's why Friedgen didn't wait until after the bowl game to introduce the shift in philosophy and the man helping him handle it, James Franklin, back on staff after a year in the NFL and two coordinating the offense at Kansas State. Franklin won't be in place tomorrow but essentially starts when the plane lands back in town.

Friedgen's reasoning should sound familiar - because it likely echoed in fans' heads a lot the past couple of years: the head coaching job is too big for him to be heaping more responsibility on his own back. Especially if one job is so noticeably detracting from the other.

"The play-calling is probably the easiest part of it," Friedgen told The Sun's Don Markus yesterday at the Terps' hotel near the waterfront. "It's the planning, the preparation to make the right call at the right time. The other thing is that when you're a coordinator, you're only thinking about one thing. As a head coach, I'm also thinking about, `Should we punt the ball here?' or `Should we go for it?' If the defense is not going well, I'll flip on the defense, but I'll be thinking about what I should be calling [on offense] the next series.

"I would miss a thing that I never would have missed before."

In fact, he said he did miss something during a baffling loss at North Carolina on Nov. 3, which at the time seemed to have killed the Terps' chances to be here for this game, or any bowl game. Maryland's last opportunity ended with 2:13 left when, on fourth-and-two at the Tar Heels' 41-yard line, trailing by three, Chris Turner was rushed into overthrowing LaQuan Williams.

It happened, Friedgen said, because he was thinking as an offensive coordinator and not as a head coach; he didn't use his available timeout to call a play that fit Turner better and ended up calling one (a sprint-out to the left) that Turner wasn't suited for but that Friedgen picked in the heat of the moment.

"I shouldn't have made that mistake," he says now. Yet it led to his deciding something that will be better for him, Turner, the rest of the offense and the program.

Ironically, Friedgen's years calling plays coincided with progressing from back-to-back losing seasons to two straight bowl appearances. But it wasn't because of the offensive magic being woven, and not because the many Terps quarterbacks have been models of productivity and consistency.

The Terps might have fallen into the real thing now with Turner, and he'll be surrounded by senior talent, a group that has been suffering mightily in growing up with the program since its arrival and, at long last, is truly expected to shine in 2008.

That would be Year 8 of Friedgen's reign, one that is going to be compared with the Atlantic Coast Conference title, Orange Bowl debut until he reaches those heights again. There hasn't been much reason going into recent seasons to think those heady days are back. There's better reason to think that now - with Franklin in, with Friedgen settling back into a more sensible role and with the injury demons obligated to beat it out of College Park for a while.

And believe, though Friedgen liked wearing both hats, he isn't agonizing about having to give one up. "I'm working harder than I've ever worked in my life, and I'm 60 years old. It's supposed to get easier," he said.

But, he added: "I would have continued to do it if I didn't feel like I could find somebody. I wasn't just going to give it up to give it up. I think I needed a pretty good guy to give it up [to]."

All the more reason to look at tomorrow not as the end of this season but as the beginning of next season. But you probably already have done that.

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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