WASHINGTON — In his first media appearance since being told he will not return next season, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen tried his best to confine his comments to football.
But, just as he was overwhelmed by the events of the past week, the 63-year-old coach found himself overtaken Wednesday by emotions — and perhaps nostalgia — as he reflected on coaching the final game at his alma mater in the Dec. 29 Military Bowl against East Carolina at RFK Stadium.
"It'll be tough," he said before pausing. "The kids have been great — to be with them last year and to see them grow. We're right to the point now where we're really ready to take off. And that's the toughest thing about this whole thing."
Friedgen, in his 10th season, sat on a riser in an oversized hotel ballroom in what was originally scheduled to be a mundane question-and-answer session in advance of the bowl.
But there was nothing perfunctory about either the news conference or about a week that has turned into a transition period for Maryland football after an 8-4 season.
As much as he wanted to focus on football, Friedgen — who officially received notice Monday that the final season of his contract was being bought out — found himself contending with the gravity of the moment.
He appeared more tired than usual — exhausted even — as he arrived at the hotel. The coach, in a black overcoat, stepped off the bus ahead of the players and walked slowly by himself to a reception with bowl sponsors. He kept his head down and politely declined a television crew's interview request.
The players then filed into the hotel wearing black Terps sweat suits.
"It's been a stressful week emotionally, more so than anything else," Friedgen said. "It is what it is. I really appreciate all the people who have either texted or e-mailed me or called me."
His voice thickened as he said to the media: "Some of the things that some of you wrote were very emotional for me."
The reception and news conference felt like the last day of summer camp. The seniors talked about playing in their last game. Assistant coaches were repeatedly asked by the media what they will do now.
"We'll see," said defensive coordinator Don Brown. "It's hard to say what the future is going to hold. I know I've got a lot of good football in me. I know I'm going to be coaching somewhere."
Asked if he might remain at Maryland, Brown, finishing his second season, replied: "I'd like to finish what I started."
Friedgen's job became jeopardized when Athletic Director Kevin Anderson decided it would hurt the program — particularly in recruiting — to have a lame-duck coach. Friedgen's contract expires at the end of next season, and Anderson opted not to grant the extension that the coach had publicly and privately sought. Maryland said the decision on Friedgen was expedited when offensive coordinator James Franklin — who had been designated as Friedgen's successor — left last week to become head coach at Vanderbilt.
Friedgen did not address his talks with Anderson.
Two assistant coaches — John Donovan and Charles Bankins — have discussed joining Franklin's Vanderbilt staff. Both were present Wednesday and Friedgen said they would coach in the bowl game.
Since Franklin called the plays, Friedgen has been left with determining who will assume that duty in next Wednesday's game.
Friedgen, a former offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, said he recently was awake at 4 a.m., studying the game plan "because I thought I might have to call it."
He said he is still not certain who will call the plays.
Once his last practice is over, Friedgen may participate in a Maryland tradition.
It is customary for the players to carry the seniors off the field following their last practice. Friedgen, who once weighed more than 400 pounds, joked that it's time for his exit.
"I just want to know who is going to get the unlucky task of carrying me off," he said.