Not mellowing, but Fridge chilling out

Despite old-school roots, Maryland coach steps back, giving his players more responsibility for team

November 19, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland had just surrendered 273 rushing yards in a 23-13 loss at Virginia Tech, and Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen was red-faced and exasperated.

"I talked to them all week about stopping the run," Friedgen fumed. "But Virginia Tech ran the ball down our throats."

But then something revealing happened. The coach - who in the frustration of the moment had considered jolting his players by scheduling a pre-dawn practice - calmed himself and thought better of it.

Friedgen's reserve was symptomatic of an evolution in his philosophy, according to the 61-year-old coach and those who know him best.

It's not that Friedgen is mellowing. It's that he's trying - sometimes against his old-school instincts - to be less heavy-handed and to grant his veteran players more responsibility so they feel like it's their team.

"Sometimes, I battle myself and my immediate reactions," Friedgen said. "I've kind of learned to take a step back and evaluate the whole situation and kind of rely on the type of experience we have on our team. Sometimes, I see kids on the team and they get over [losses] faster than coaches."

Increasingly, Friedgen tells his players: "You need to be motivating yourself."

With Maryland losing 17-6 at Clemson, it was defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre who delivered a halftime speech telling players the game was far from over. Maryland won the Sept. 27 game, 20-17.

After the Terps lost, 31-0, at Virginia on Oct. 4, it was senior offensive lineman Jaimie Thomas and other players - not coaches - who called a team meeting to try to instill greater urgency.

Against North Carolina on Saturday, Thomas picked up a headset and told offensive coordinator James Franklin to call more running plays up the middle. Friedgen and Franklin say they have encouraged such input from players, even during games.

"A lot of times, a coach will lose it and come out and scream at you," Navarre said. "He [Friedgen] has been very positive. Even after a loss, he's been positive. It's evident the team feeds off the way he is."

Most of Friedgen's speeches that players remember best are positive. After Maryland shut out Wake Forest, 26-0, on Oct. 18, Friedgen stood in the locker room and declared that the game perfectly illustrated "what you can be."

The shift in Friedgen's approach has been gradual but is particularly evident this season, assistant coaches and players say. With 30 seniors, this is one of Maryland's most experienced teams. Friedgen has come to rely on team leaders such as Navarre and center Edwin Williams, who will play their final home games when the Terps host Florida State on Saturday night.

The game is critical to Maryland's hopes of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division and advancing to the conference title game. The Terps lead the division by a half-game.

Friedgen's late father, also named Ralph, was a high school football coach and athletic director for more than 30 years in Westchester County, N.Y. "He was as old-school as they come," said Dave Sollazzo, Maryland's defensive line coach.

Sollazzo, 52, attended the same high school - Harrison - as the younger Friedgen. The elder Friedgen was his athletic director.

Sollazzo said the younger Friedgen is tough like his father - but different. "He's adjusted to the ways of the times. He's adjusted to the kids of this century," Sollazzo said. "All good coaches do."

Friedgen often refers to his father, noting how different coaches are today from 40 or 50 years ago.

Once, Friedgen returned from an afternoon practice this season drenched in sweat. He said he had been joking around with his players while music blared from overhead speakers.

"I started dancing for them," said Friedgen, shaking a little in his chair. "Modern coach. My father is rolling over in his grave."

Friedgen said his father treated losses differently from the way he does. When his father was coaching, "when we lost the game, we didn't eat dinner," Friedgen said.

The younger Friedgen said he takes losses hard, too, but tries not to take his frustration out on family members. "All of a sudden, I had my first child and she didn't care if we won or lost. I've kind of learned to keep things within me and not let other people be affected by it," he said.

Note:: Maryland has designated the Florida State contest as a "blackout game," meaning students are being encouraged to wear black and the team is likely to wear black jerseys.

FLORIDA STATE (7-3, 4-3 ACC) @NO. 22 TERPS (7-3, 4-2)

Saturday, 7:45 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: Maryland by 1

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