Emotional Friedgen tries to keep focus on Military Bowl

December 22, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

WASHINGTON — — Ralph Friedgen walked into the ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel Wednesday evening determined to keep his emotions in check. By my watch, that lasted about three minutes.

It was the Fridge's first time talking to the media since this whole circus surrounding his ouster as Maryland football coach broke out last week.

Right off the bat, he said he wouldn't discuss his job status until after the Terps play in the Military Bowl this coming Wednesday night. He said all the right things after that, said he wanted the focus to be on the game, that it was only fair for the players, the fans, the alumni, etc.

Then someone asked what the last week had been like for him, and his face seemed to sag.

"It's been a stressful week, emotionally," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "You know, it is what it is. I really appreciate all the people who have texted or e-mailed me, called me … but I really don't want to get into that now."

So the Friedgen era is about to end in College Park and here's what we're hearing now: Maryland is looking for a football coach with some sizzle.

That's why an 8-4 record and a bowl berth this season wasn't enough to save Friedgen's job. Being named ACC Coach of the Year wasn't enough. Neither was a 74-50 record and seven bowl appearances in 10 years.

No, once James Franklin, the Terps' offensive coordinator and Fridge's heir-apparent, took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, the Fridge was a dead man walking.

Suddenly, he was a lame duck coach with a bunch of assistants who might jump ship, a head coach who wouldn't be able to recruit, not with just one year remaining on his contract.

So that's when the new AD, Kevin Anderson, decided the football program needed some sizzle.

And he wasn't wrong about that, it says here.

Look, Maryland football has generated absolutely no buzz for years. Revenue from the program is down. Season ticket sales at Byrd Stadium have declined steadily the past five seasons. Too many of the big, fancy sky boxes remain unsold.

And maybe a new coach with some sizzle helps all that. Maybe it's Mike Leach, the spread-offense wizard who was fired by Texas Tech, maybe it's someone else.

But it won't be Ralph Friedgen. Which is just as well, because Friedgen was never about sizzle.

Oh, he's a solid, upstanding guy, sure. A good football coach with core values. A straight shooter with his players and the media and everyone else.

But he's not Mr. Excitement and that's what everyone's talking about now: getting a young dynamic head coach to breathe new life into the program.

Like most people who spent any time around Friedgen, I liked the guy. But I'm not sure his ouster was as horribly botched by Maryland as people say.

Sure, maybe Anderson should have never publicly said the Fridge would keep his job for one more year back in November.

But with only a couple months on the job, how was he to know James Franklin was getting itchy and looking around for a head coaching job?

I look at it this way, too: The Fridge had a nice run at Maryland, 10 years, more than a lot of guys get in that pressure-cooker of a job.

And the school will buy out the last year of his contract and write him a check for $2 million, which is not exactly like getting a set of boxers for Christmas.

So now the Fridge prepares to coach his last game at Maryland in the Military Bowl, and there's something a little sad about that, too.

You talk about sizzle — here's a game with absolutely none of that.

A game at frozen RFK Stadium in D.C. in late December? Against a team with a football profile so low you could hide mob witnesses on the roster and save the government all that protection money?

This Maryland team deserves a better bowl. So does Ralph Friedgen.

But the game will go on, whether it lacks sizzle or not. And irony of ironies, with the Fridge leaving, the game has actually become a hot ticket around here, with Maryland selling all 8,700 of its allotted tickets.

As this awkward news conference at the Renaissance Hotel drew to a close, Friedgen was asked how he thought he'd feel next Wednesday night at RFK, knowing it would be his last game as the Terps head coach.

"For the most part, I've been holding in my emotions pretty good," he said, eyes watering again. "It'll be tough … you know, the kids have been good."

Ralph Friedgen has been good, too. Good for the Maryland football program, good for his players.

No sizzle, but a lot of substance.

For 10 years, that was plenty good enough.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.)

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